Native Plantings

Posted: July 15, 2021

Aftercare and Long-Term Management

Every year not long after the corn and soybeans are planted, I start getting calls regarding the newly seeded native plantings that were completed in the spring or fall of the previous year, says Dean Johnson. The first comment is, “It sure looks weedy, and I don’t see anything that we are supposed to have planted.”

This is when I try to reassure the farmer or landowner that this is what we expect with native seedings. Farmers are professional growers – they place the seed in the soil and then expect it to grow like the corn, soybeans, and cool season grasses – but that’s not how native plants work.

It can take 3-5 years to establish a native plant, so what do we do to manage the acreage until it is established?

Early management is critical to preventing re-invading weeds and woody species from out- competing and displacing establishing natives. Some management strategies to use during the establishment phase include:

• Mowing to reduce competition
• Selective use of herbicide to control invasive perennials
• Prescribed fire to promote native prairie species and discourage further invasion
• Monitoring vegetation to evaluate establishment of prairie seedings throughout the establishment phase and beyond, adjust management plans as necessary, including the option to reseed to achieve the desired species composition and diversity.

If you are working with any federal or state programs to install native plantings you will need to follow the specific management activities set forth in your contract.

Over time native plants will eventually crowd out undesirable species but it is not uncommon that these sites can be invaded by Cottonwood and Maple saplings which need to be removed or controlled with prescribed burning to maintain the integrity of the native planting. A successful native planting requires constant monitoring and management to achieve the desired outcome.

Native plantings can be beautiful especially if native flowers are included in the seed mix. Prairie plants are good for the soil and provide beneficial habitat for wildlife.

Organizations like the Soil and Water Conservation District, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Farm Service Agency and Pheasants Forever can assist landowners in cost share funding and technical advice. Please feel free to contact one of these agencies if you need advice. The number for assistance is 815-756-3234, ext. 3.