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Establishing a Native Seed Mix

Starting a native plant community, whether it be prairie/meadow, woodland, or wetland, from seed, involves a labor of love and patience.  Most who have been through it will praise the process, the thrill of discovery and the absolute joy in transforming a space with little biological activity into a healthy eco-system.  You will delight in your efforts season after season as the wildlife and color reminiscent of the North American prairie become a part of your home landscape.

Many areas will need 1 growing season (spring-fall) for site preparation, an exception may be an area with lawn grass, recent agricultural or garden plot, or new construction area.  Remove existing grass/weeds and the weed seed bank that may be in the soil during the growing season (April-September) by smothering, repeated shallow tiling, using herbicides or other methods you determine to be best.

Choose a native seed mix that matches your sun and soil conditions.

Sowing the seed: Broadcast seed on bare (weed-free), compact ground (do not till prior to sowing).   We are an advocate for fall or frost plantings (mid-Oct to early-March).   Spring plantings (April-June) are an acceptable second choice.  You should not plant in the summer.  (Click here for Pros and Cons to Fall vs. Spring Plantings).

Most sites need maintenance mowings to keep weeds from going to seed and to allow light to penetrate the ground encouraging growth of the majority of the slow-growing natives.  You may get some blooms this year, most likely annuals like Black-eyed Susan or Partridge Pea, but you must sacrifice these native flowers if you want the other species to establish. Keep the area cut to 4-6″ this year.  Don’t pull the weeds!  This will disturb the root systems of the nearby natives trying to establish.

This may or may not be the year you start enjoying the fruits of your labor.  You may need to mow once yet this year.  Be patient, although some species may reach flowering stages in year 3, some could take 4 years or more.

Read on for more information on establishing a native plant community using seed