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The Beautiful Side of Quail Habitat

Jul 26, 2009

image of Indian paintbrushThe past couple weeks she has visited the farm with her granddaughter to take pictures of all the different wildflowers. Below are a few of her best pictures of flowers.

About every two or three weeks, we have a different flower show at the farm. The first show is in mid-April. One of the fields was covered with Indian paintbrush this year. That's because we periodically burn the field. This year we burned the field in late February.

The second show is around Memorial Day weekend. The entire farm is colored yellow with coreopsis and Missouri evening primrose. By early June the coneflowers take over. First pale purple coneflower and yellow coneflower, followed by purple coneflower and grey-head coneflower. Other wildflowers like obedient plant, spiderwort, prairie blazing star and purple prairie clover play supporting roles with splashing of cover here and there.

image of coreopsis field and little barnThe covey headquarters we planted for quail also put on a show. The first to bloom are the wild plum thickets followed by blackberry and then the shrub dogwood and indigo bush. Blackberries begin to ripen around the Fourth of July. We have plenty of blackberry briars for cobbler and ice cream. Chiggers too.

image of purple coneflowers

image of flowers and old barn complex

image of wild plum shrub row

Wild plum shrub row

image of false indigo

False indigo covey headquarter

I love visiting the farm at this time of the year. There's always a new wildflower in bloom or something else to find. Seeing and hearing quail is just icing on the cake.

Our farm didn't always look like this. Six years ago the farm was still fescue, locust trees and eastern red cedar. Five years ago we sprayed all the fescue on the farm and seeded the open fields with a mix of wildflowers and native grasses. We even had a custom seed mix made for a small glade near the farm house. This small rocky area is full of wildflowers and native grasses like side oats grama and little bluestem.

I bet most quail hunters get pretty excited when they see wildflowers blooming on their farm. They might not admit it, though. They probably get excited for the same reasons I do. We worked our tail off to get them! Would you like your farm to look like the picture above? Here are some helpful tips on establishing native grasses and wildflowers:

1. Learn to be patient.

It may take three to five years to see the "flowers of your labors." You may not even recognize any of the native wildflowers until the third year. On our farm it took some plants seven years to finally bloom! The wait was worth it.

Over the years I have also learned it's sometimes best to spend two years eradicating cool-season grasses. If you don't kill all the fescue or brome the first year consider waiting another year. It's best to get it right the first time instead of respraying a field.

2. Site prep

Most fescue/brome fields will need two or more herbicide treatments. I usually recommend three or four. Even better, consider cropping the field for two years before planting native grasses and wildflowers. The multiple herbicide treatments will kill all the grasses and unwanted weeds. Say what? Three to four herbicide treatments? Here's how (this is a two-year project):

Option One:

  • Spring (April - May): Spray cool-season grass field with glyphosate and 2,4D mixture. The 2, 4D will kill most unwanted plants like clover.
  • Summer (July): Spray field with glyphosate and 2,4D if clover is present.
  • Fall (October): Spray field with glyphosate.

Option Two (preferred method):

  • Fall (October): Spray cool-season grass field with glyphosate.
  • Spring (April - May): Spray field with glyphosate and 2,4D to kill remaining grasses and unwanted legumes.
  • Summer (July): Spray field with glyphosate and 2,4D to kill grasses, legumes and broadleafs.
  • Fall (October and November): Spray field to kill remaining weeds and winter annuals.

3. Don't skimp on the seed mix

Purchase a good seed mix with a variety of wildflowers. Make sure most of the wildflowers are perennial. Try to avoid the taller native grasses since they will crowd out the wildflowers.

4. Dormant seedings work best

Spring is a great time to plant native grasses but a horrible time to plant native wildflowers. Consider dormant seeding native wildflowers and grasses in December or January.

5. Mow! Mow! Mow!... the first year, that is.

The first year is about establishing roots, not flowers. It's time to mow any time the weeds are knee high. Mow no shorter than 6 inches.

6. Burn! Burn! Burn!...

Try to burn the second and definitely the third year to promote the native grasses and wildflowers. After the third year consider splitting the field into management units to provide a mix of burned (brooding cover) and unburned (nesting cover) areas.

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