Successful grass stands are created by planning and managing the factors that are under our control, to offset the vagaries of weather. Late spring and summer are poor times for planting success, due to temperatures, hot winds and moisture levels of the soil.
Preparing and planning to reduce competition from other plants and foragers for new grass seeded areas are factors we can manage. Common annual weeds compete with grass seed for moisture, nutrients and sunlight, while premature grazing of a newly created stand will destroy it before it has the chance to get truly established.
Through careful preparation, following optimal planting guidelines and protecting the newly seeded land as much as we can, we increase the chance of success in face of factors that challenge the restoration of land to healthy grassland.
Plan for Success
Prepare the Seedbed
Proper preparation of seedbed is needed, as grass seedlings are very fragile. Through removal of competing vegetation and preparation of soil to provide fluffy, soft planting medium, we provide grass seeds a supportive environment to sprout and grow within.
It is not advisable to plant directly into an existing stand of native vegetation with high weed content or land previously used for wheat production. An oft asked question we are asked,
“Can I just scatter some seed to thicken the stand or even drill into existing cover?”
We have not seen success using this method. The competition from existing vegetation is often too much to overcome.
Mechanical and Cover Crop Options
The most common practice is to begin with destroying the existing vegetative cover through mechanical means. Optionally, a cover crop of warm season, sterile forage sorghum, long-season milo or forage millet can be planted by the first part of June.
The chosen cover crop helps eliminate weed competition while firming up the seedbed for grass planting. The use of sterile sorghum is advised for fields previously used for wheat production, as sterile sorghum is unlikely to sprout the following year; studies indicate wheat grain residues, especially in the year after harvest, give off a chemical which inhibits grass seed germination.
The cover crop not only provides for a hay cutting in the fall, but also leaves 6-8″ of protective stubble in which to seed grass in the fall. Cover crop stubble provides support to your newly planted area by:
- Decreasing evaporation to retain soil moisture
- Keeping soil temperatures lower due to shading
- Protecting young seedlings from strong winds
- Collecting snow during the winter
- Minimizing weed growth
Planting Grass Seed
Use Quality Seed
While it may seem costly to invest in high quality, certified seed from a reputable dealer, the initial cost is offset by the increased probability of a good stand of grass. We provide both general and customized, high quality grass seed mixes, blended specifically for your soil content and plans for future use of the land (rangeland, etc.).
Plant at Optimum Time and Optimum Depth
Following the harvest of the cover crop or the preparation of the seedbed, grass can be planted after November 1st. This ensures seeds remain dormant and do not germinate until spring. A fall planting is often more successful because grass seeds germinate better after a winter in the soil. Seeding with a grass drill will increase the chances of survival.
Alternatively, planting can be done in the early spring (before May 1st), and still be successful, though fall plantings seem to consistently reap better results.
Unlike crops such as wheat, grass seed must be planted very shallow in order to germinate and push up to the soil surface. If the grass is planted over ½ to ¾ inch deep, it has a high probability of failure. Planting seed at the correct depth is a major factor influencing success or failure of your seeding- it is especially important to regulate planting depth.
Double-Disk furrow openers, seed box agitator and depth bands in conjunction with a designated grass drill are used to ensure proper placement of seed. Press wheels should be used to firm the soil around the seed and close small air pockets.
Broadcasting by hand may be necessary in certain areas, such as those too steep or too rocky to drill.
During the establishment of the grass stand, seedlings should be protected as much as possible from competing vegetation and foraging. It is necessary to control competition either chemically or mechanically for up to three growing seasons to ensure adequate stand establishment. During the establishment phase, stand should be protected from grazing or harvesting, as well.
Mowing competing vegetation to a 6″ height is important to prevent your new seedlings from being choked or smothered.
What to Expect the First Year
Most growers of native grasses are convinced they have a failure the first year. Most of the time they actually have a good stand. Native grasses grow down, not up, during the establishment year. The top growth normally amounts to a narrow, straight leaf until late summer.
Monitoring your New Grass Stand
Once your new stand is established and you open it to grazing, it is necessary to maintain proper grazing heights to protect your investment. Monitoring of grasses before, during and after grazing cycles using a grazing stick or ruler to monitor grass growth is recommended. Grazing Heights vary based upon the species of grasses present and the species of grazers introduced to the land. Contact Us to learn how to effectively monitor your grassland dependent upon your vegetation and use of rangeland.