Native Prairie Plantings Can Be Established Without Using Herbicides


This article was reprinted with permission from MOSES.

With increased interest in providing habitat for pollinators and a concern over the loss of native plants in our landscape, many landowners want to transform fallow or savannah land from non-native or single species grasslands to diverse native grasses and flowering plants—restoring native prairies. Because native prairie grasses and flowering forb plants have very small seeds, the planting area needs to be bare to ensure good seed-to-soil contact.

The preparation of this seed bed is where most prairie planting recommendations encourage the use of herbicide. As organic farmers, my husband and I did not want to either handle or hire someone to apply these prohibited substances, so we tried a different way. Four years after we planted our one-acre prairie, we can say that we created a successful prairie planting without any herbicide use. A year and a half ago, we planted 22 acres of CRP land with a grass/flowering plant prairie mix, without broad herbicide use, and things are going well there, too.

Prairie Aster

Prairies can be established in a variety of areas that receive full sunlight, on flat or sloping land, and on any types of soil. Farmers may want to plant a flowering field border to provide habitat for beneficial insects in the buffer zone between their organic fields and their conventional neighbors, gaining benefit from land where they cannot grow organic commercial crops. The Natural Resources Conservation Service has a variety of cost share opportunities (EQIP and CSP) to aid farmers with these plantings.

The first step is to assess the area where you plan to plant your prairie and your capabilities to prepare and plant it. Is the plant community present acceptable, but you wish to improve the diversity of plants and add specific flowering plants such as milkweed for monarch butterflies or fall asters to provide late-season forage for honeybees? Then “frost interseeding” can work. Broadcast seed in very late fall before snow, during the winter if the ground is not snow covered, or in the very early spring when just a small amount of snow is on the ground and melting quickly. This should be done on ground that was burned or mowed short in the fall, or raked in areas to expose soil so those seeds can touch moist soil.

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