Planting Prairie

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Published on: Nov. 2, 2001

Last revision: Nov. 9, 2010

small plantings, or to add interesting species into a seeding.

Prairie planting seed is commercially available from a growing number of seed suppliers in Missouri and neighboring states. These suppliers also can help you select species and provide tips for successful planting. Seed can be expensive, but many suppliers will put together a mix (a little seed from several wildflowers) for a reasonable price.

Collecting your own seed requires some knowledge and effort, as well as a legal place to collect it. Seed collecting is not generally allowed on public lands, and you need a landowner's permission to collect it on private land.

Collecting your own seed will improve your plant identification skills, as well as your knowledge of the ecology and habitat requirements of the species. If you are having trouble identifying prairie plants or seeds, the natural history or wildlife biologist at your local Department of Conservation office can help you.

Where and when

Wherever you choose to plant, leave room for a surrounding wide buffer of mowed, cool-season turf grass. This will serve as an effective firebreak for prescribed burning, which is an important part of the long-term management of any prairie habitat.

Home associations and municipalities sometimes have "weed ordinances" that often define a weed as any plant over a given height regardless of whether the plant is a coneflower or ragweed. Check regulations ahead of time to prevent later headaches. If neighbors live close to the planting, let them know what you're doing so they don't think you've simply "let things go" in your yard.

Prairie plantings can be successfully established in spring or fall/winter. Most prairie restorationists recommend planting in fall or early winter because exposure to winter weather improves seed germination.

Preparing the site

Three basic elements are necessary to a successful planting: bare soil, a firm seed bed and weed control.

Site preparation largely depends on what is currently growing there. If the site is bare dirt, you'll have a lot less work to do than if it's fescue sod. If it's loaded with sericea lespedeza, Johnson grass or other problem exotics, you probably should delay planting until you're confident they have been eliminated. You might consider choosing another site.

If your planting site is currently in cool-season grass, whether rye grass or fescue, the first step is to kill the grass. Use a broad spectrum herbicide, one that kills both grasses and broadleaf plants. To kill tough grasses like fescue, you may

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