Create Your Own Naturescape
wait two years or more before emerging. Native seeds have many strategies, such as the delay in germination to ensure survival.
Smaller areas may be hand broadcast. This allows flexibility in species distribution for variety and interest. Mixing the seed with vermiculite or sand gives a larger volume, which helps distribute the seed better. Visually dividing larger areas into smaller sections, then broadcasting with the divided seed mixture helps you seed the entire area uniformly.
Follow all hand seeding with a light raking or dragging a weighted section of chain link fence. The seeds need to be firmly in contact with the soil but not sown too deeply. Winter freezing and thawing will mix the seeds with the soil to the correct depth.
Larger areas may be planted using a tractor and drill specially designed for sowing native seed. These planters are generally available at local soil and water district conservation offices listed in directories under the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
If you'd like to identify the seedlings, sow a small amount of your mix in a nursery flat of sterilized soil. By learning what the seedlings look like, you can determine which plant is a "weed" to be pulled and better judge the success of the seeding. Later, the seedlings can be transplanted into the planting. Even the first fall, prairie grasses turn beautiful shades of rust or beige, so you can easily spot them after the first frost.
Water the planting from mid-April to the end of May, if the soil is extremely dry and rainfall is low to ensure better germination. Depending on the site, annual weeds may look like the dominant vegetation. When the plant growth gets 10 to 12 inches tall, mow with a rotary mower to a height of 6 to 8 inches two or three times during the first growing season.
This will keep the weeds from shading the slower growing native perennials. Remember, they are spending their first season establishing a deep, drought-tolerant root system. You may need to mow once or twice the second growing season, depending on how well the natives are growing.
In subsequent years, your native planting needs to be maintained by mowing or, where permitted, prescribed burning. Prescribed fire is a management tool that helps keep out woody growth, recycles nutrients and stimulates native plants to grow and flower. Use it under the proper conditions with equipment, water, assistance and respect.
Once established, native plantings only require occasional weeding of exotics brought in by wildlife and periodic clearing, either by burning or mowing and removing the litter. This should be done every three to four years in late winter to early spring. If you leave native vegetation standing during winter, it provides valuable cover for wildlife, and the bronze winter colors of the native grasses brighten gray winter days.
The reward for your dedication and patience will be a place that will remain wild. It will be a place where you can watch butterflies sipping nectar from coneflowers. Who knows, maybe you will catch sight of deer dolphining through your native grasses.