At La Crosse Seed we have worked with a variety of customers over many years who have successfully seeded and established native grass species. These species demonstrate amazing tenacity once they are established. Natives are tolerant to extremes of heat or cold, drought and a variety of other harsh environmental conditions. Seed and seedling characteristics of natives are different from those of most domesticated crops or turf grasses. Native species generally have small seeds. Prairie grass seeds bring seedling vigor that is generally lower than that of many domesticated plant species. Most natives require shallow seeding depths. Germination can be somewhat prolonged due to naturally occurring seed dormancy. Successful establishment requires attention to detail in seedbed preparation, seeding and early management.
Native wildflowers are an important addition to many native grass plantings. Besides adding beauty to stands of native grasses, wildflowers are an important food source for game birds, song birds, and mammalian wildlife as well as grazing livestock.
Choosing when to seed these wildflowers depends largely on the management strategies that are intended. Inclusion of wildflowers eliminates the possibility of some herbicide use. Many herbicides which control weeds may also kill wildflowers. Where use of such herbicides is planned it would be best to delay planting of wildflowers for one to three years. This would allow herbicide use until the grasses are established and herbicides are not needed. Wildflower species will generally establish well in stands of established grass. Wildflower species have been added as an enhancement planting to thousands of acres of conservation reserve program (and with good results). The nature of wildflower seedling growth makes this possible. Seedlings form a tap root at germination that grows without a pause as the plants develop. By comparison grasses form a seedling root from the seed upon germination, but then abandon the seedling root system as the permanent root system develops.
Growers who choose not to use herbicides may want to include wildflowers when making the initial seeding of native grasses.