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Prairie Restoration Guidelines
Prairie Restoration Guidelines

Research and Planning    Site Preparation    Planting    Management


Weed Control

Weed control is critical when establishing native grasses and wildflowers. Native seedlings put most of their energy reserves into root establishment during the first year or two, making above-ground growth appear slowly. They can be shaded out very easily by fast-growing weeds. Weed competition needs to be eliminated prior to planting if you want your project to be a success.

One method of weed control on large sites is the use of a broad-spectrum, glyphosate herbicide. This will kill off any growing weeds, and subsequent sprayings (at about 1-month intervals, or whenever a site greens up with weeds again) will kill weeds that have germinated from seed stored in the soil. Sites that were previously planted with corn or soybeans will most likely only need to be sprayed once prior to planting. Old pastures may require several applications over multiple years to properly prepare a site. If more persistent broad-leaf weeds are present then herbicides such as 2,4-D or Sterling can be sprayed along with the glyphosate application. Glyphosate degrades very quickly once it is sprayed and can be used up to the day before planting, while other herbicides should be applied at least two weeks prior to planting.

If spraying is not an option, another effective method of weed control is tilling. An initial tilling at a depth of 3 - 6 inches will kill most weeds, and subsequent shallow tilling at approximately 2 - 3 inches deep will eliminate newly germinated weed seedlings. This will gradually reduce the amount of weed seed stored in the soil. Subsequent tilling should be shallow to prevent more deeply buried weed seeds from being brought to the surface. If Oats or Winter Wheat is planted as a temporary cover crop, it can offer some weed control by simply crowding out the weeds. Tilling this cover crop under to prepare the soil for planting natives should kill any weeds that may have grown through.

In smaller areas, smothering unwanted vegetation by covering it with black landscaping fabric, leaf compost or grass clippings is an efficient method of weed control. The site should be kept covered for an entire year prior to planting.

Seed Bed Preparation

Before planting native seed, the soil needs to be relatively free of debris and prepared into a firm, fine-textured seedbed. To achieve this, the soil can be tilled shallowly with a disc. If the soil is still full of clumps it can be dragged with a harrow or tire drag to break it up more finely. On smaller areas, a roto-tiller followed by a garden rake will work well. If the soil is very soft, to the point where a footprint presses down half an inch or more, the soil is too loose. Any seed spread here risks being buried too deep for proper germination, and the soil should be packed down with a roller or culti-packer prior to seeding.
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