Planting the Seed

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From 100 acres to 100 square feet, every pollinator plot matters. Here’s how to plant one

By Anna Swerczek

Growing a new prairie pollinator plot starts with good site preparation, continues with proper broadcasting techniques and management approaches, and ends with a beautiful spread of native wildflowers and grasses for butterflies, bees, songbirds … and pheasants and quail!

Proper site preparation is arguably the most important step in planting a prairie pollinator plot. Make sure to have a “clean” bed on which to broadcast your seed in. Ideally you want a seed bed that is free of weeds and litter (meaning, leftover plant material). Techniques for this include disking, chemicals or solarization (using black fabric and the sun to “bake out” plants and roost underneath).

Ordering and mixing seed comes next. Many standard seed mixes have been developed for spring drilled seedings, so generally it is recommended to order 50 percent more seed. To be sure to get an even spread of seed while broadcasting, you need to mix with a filler. You can use rice hulls, or another carrier of your choice.

Broadcast slowly and release seed low to the ground, side to side as you walk. You can stop halfway and evaluate how much seed you have left to know if you need to use more or less. A good plan to seed in a checkerboard pattern. Example: Apply half of the seed going north-south then use the remaining seed going east-west to get an even application.

Ensure seed-to-soil contact. If broadcasting during dormant and frost season, mother nature will do this work during the freeze-thaw cycles, creating small cracks for the seed to incorporate into the soil. If you are broadcasting in the spring, a pass with a cultivator or lawn roller will help achieve shallow seed soil contact.

Consider care requirements for your plot. Native seed is adapted to our climates and usually does not have to be watered. Although, if it is easy access, watering in the first year will help give your seed the best chance of success in a dry year. During the first growing season, perennial grasses and wildflowers put most of their efforts into their root structures. It is normal to see more annuals and even “weeds” during the first year, and it will take two to three years to see a more established native seeding. Mowing at strategic times (work with a PF or QF biologist to identify when) may help encourage those perennial wildflowers for years two and three.

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Anna Swerczek is habitat education program manager for PF & QF.

A version of this story originally appeared in PF & QF’s youth publication, Forever Outdoors.


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