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Planting Native Grass

Planting Native Grass

by Doug Spencer, Rangeland Management Specialist
Natural Resources Conservation Service
Marion, Kansas

High fertilizer prices, lack of warm-season forage for grazing, and marginal production on crop fields are just some of the reasons producers are deciding to plant fields to native grass. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) can provide specifications to make your seeding a success. NRCS staff will work with the producer to develop a plan that includes a plan map showing the acres to be seeded, a soil map showing specific site conditions, and a seeding sheet that provides technical guidance on the cover crop to use, the key dates to plant, and the appropriate seed mix for the site conditions.

Preparing to plant native grasses should begin the year prior to the seeding. Typically, a soil test is taken to determine the appropriate nutrients that need to be applied. A cover crop of milo is planted the summer before the native grass will be seeded. Milo is often used so herbicides can be used to control annual grasses such as crabgrass and foxtail. Milo stubble also provides good cover to prevent further soil erosion while the grasses establish. The recommended planting time for warm-season native grass is December 1 to May 15.

When converting a smooth brome or tall fescue field to native grass, manage the cool-season grass so that a fall application of glyphosate will kill the existing sod. This usually means haying or mowing the area in the summer so good re-growth will occur in the fall. Do not graze the field in the fall and do not till or heavily disturb the killed sod. The native grass can then be seeded the next spring with a no-till grass drill.

If tall fescue seedlings and/or annual grasses (crabgrass or foxtail) are a concern in the field being planted, herbicides containing the active ingredient imazapic (Plateau and Panoramic 2SL are examples of trade names) can be applied for control. Be sure to read the label and apply proper rates based on the species of native grass you are seeding. High application rates can suppress some of the desired native grasses you will be planting, so use caution.

After preparing the seedbed with an appropriate cover, securing the seeding mixture, and purchasing the native grass seed, it is time to plant. A drill capable of seeding no-till into the existing cover is preferred. The drill must have a grass seed box with a large agitator so the fluffy native grass will flow through the drill. Finally, remember not to not plant too deep. The native grass should be seeded at 1/8- to 1/2-inch depth and no deeper. Setting the drill is extremely important, so be sure to observe its operation and make sure it is working properly.

As stated earlier, your local NRCS office can provide specifications that are tailored to your specific circumstance. If you would like assistance with planting native grass, please contact your local NRCS office or conservation district office located at your local county USDA Service Center. Your local U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Service Center (listed in the telephone book under United States Government or on the internet at offices.usda.gov). More information is also available on the Kansas Web site at www.ks.nrcs.usda.gov. Follow us on Twitter @NRCS_Kansas. USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.

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