Planting Native Grass Seed Mixes for Prairie and Meadow Restoration
By David Salman, Chief Horticulturist
Sowing A Meadow With Our Native Grass Seed Mixes
You don't need an expert to plant grass meadows. Native grass species mixtures like our Western Trails Native Grass Seed Mix and High Mountain Native Grass Seed Mix provide property owners with a resilient multi-species mix of small-to-medium height grasses. These native grasses will withstand drought, provide natural beauty with ornamental seed heads in late summer and fall, and provide habitat for numerous beneficial insects, songbirds, and small animals.
Read on to learn how to choose the right mix for your region, how to plant grass seeds, and how to mix native grass seeds with wildflowers to create a beautiful meadow.
Choose The Right Native Grass Seed Mix For Your Region
Our Western Trails Native Grass Seed Mix is an expertly formulated blend of warm season native grasses that recreate a western Great Plains prairie.
- This mix is best used in regions where the average annual precipitation is not more than 25" annually.
- A good choice for the western half of the US, including the western half of OK, KS, NE, SD, all of ND, and all states west to the Pacific Ocean.
- Not generally recommended for the western side of OR and WA, the coastal side of the Cascades, where there is much more rainfall than the drier eastern parts of those two states.
- This mix will grow well in a wide range of soil types, from sandy to loam to heavy clay.
- Well suited to a wide range of elevations up to about 7,500 ft. in the southern parts of the West to about 6,000 ft. in the northern tier Western states.
Our High Mountain Native Grass Seed Mix is an expertly formulated blend of cool season native grasses that recreate high elevation meadows for states in the Intermountain West. These grasses thrive in cool mountain areas with late spring frosts early fall frosts.
- In the southern parts of the Intermountain states, this mix is best used at higher elevations from 7,500 to around 9,000 ft.
- In the northern part of the Intermountain area, this mix is best used at approximately 6,000 to around 8,000 ft.
- This mix will grow well in a wide range of soil types, from sandy to loam to heavy clay.
How To Plant Native Grass Seeds
Timing Is The Key To Success
The Western Trails Mix is a blend of warm-season grasses, which means that you need to wait until mid- to late spring for the day and night temperatures to warm up. In spring, wait until the night temperatures are consistently 50° F or warmer and the day temperatures are reaching even higher. The season for sowing the Western Trails mix extends through summer into late summer/early fall (August/September) depending on your elevation. At higher, cooler elevations, the sowing date moves back earlier into August. As a general rule of thumb, the species of grasses in the 'Western Trails' mix need to be established 6 to 8 weeks before the start of freezing night temperatures.
The season for sowing the High Mountain Mix, a blend of cool season grasses, begins after snow melts in spring and extends into late July/early August. The higher the elevation, the sooner in summer the mix should be sown, as cool season grasses grow best at cool/moderate temperatures.
How To Prepare The Soil
- Clear the area of weeds and any remnants of former lawns.
- Most native grasses adapt well to poor soils, making soil enrichment unnecessary.
- Loosen soil to a depth of 3-4 inches using a rototiller. Rake the area with a bow rack to break up dirt clods and create a good seedbed.
For areas that have been overgrown with weeds for a long period of time, it's highly beneficial to make the extra effort to kill the weeds before you sow the grass seed:
- Rototill to a depth of 3-4 inches. Then water the site to encourage weeds to germinate.
- Rototill again to kill the young weeds. Re-water the site to get a second germination flush.
- Rototill one last time and rake the area with a bow rake to break up dirt clods and create a good seedbed. Then you're ready to sow.
How To Prepare and Sow Grass Seed
- Use at recommended rates on the seed package, and adjust the amount needed to cover larger or smaller areas.
- Mix weighed seed with slightly moist sand in a ratio of 2 parts sand to 1part seed, to help distribute seeds more evenly.
- Add Plant Success Granular mycorrhizal root inoculant to mix into the sand/seed mixture. This will improve seed germination and get young seedlings off to a faster, more vigorous start.
- Gently rake the soil surface with the back of the bow rake to create a smooth, even seedbed.
- Broadcast the seed/sand mixture by hand.
- Use a lawn roller or small piece of plywood to press the seed firmly into the soil.
- Mulch with a thin 1/4" layer of clean wheat or barley straw to retain moisture. NEVER use field hay as this will contaminate the area with many noxious weed seeds.
Watering and Germination
- Set up a sprinkler(s) that provides coverage of the area, so that you can turn on the water without having to drag a hose and walk across the soggy soil of the newly seeded patch. After sowing, water the area thoroughly such that the soil is wet to a depth of 4-6 inches.
- For the first week to 10 days, be prepared to water twice daily for 10 to 15 minutes, morning and evening to keep the top 1 inch of the soil damp.
- Continue twice-daily watering until the grass germinates. Warm night temperatures and moist soil help germination, usually within 7 to 10 days. If the seeds have not germinated within 15 days, re-sow.
- Once the grass germinates, over a period of a couple of weeks, cut back to once daily then every other day. Watch the young seedlings carefully and don't let them wither, but don't overwater and drown them. Watch patches of seedlings in low spots and reduce watering frequency if they seem to die off.
- Depending on how hot it is, watering can be tapered off to once every 3 to 7 days. Less frequent, deeper watering will help develop a deep root system and contribute to the drought tolerance of your grasses. Check the soil moisture after you water with a hand trowel, to see how wet it is and how deep the moisture goes.
- Weed control is essential to establishing your newly sown native grass mixtures. Hopefully, by pre-germinating weed seeds (see "Preparing the Soil"), the amount of weeding needed will be greatly reduced. But some weeding is always needed.
- Don't weed when the soil is moist from daily or every other day irrigation. This will compact the soil and kill tender young seedlings.
- Unless the area is quickly overrun with broadleaf weed seedlings, it's best to wait about 4 to 6 weeks after sowing to begin weeding. When watering has been reduced to weekly intervals and the soil is firm between waterings, it's safe to walk over your new lawn/meadow. At this point, mowing the grass to a height of about 2 to 3 inches will help it to thicken up and weaken weed competition so that the grass can crowd out the weeds. Repeat every couple of weeks or as needed.
- For small patches, hand weeding can be done in place of mowing. Use a board or small piece of plywood to kneel on to avoid crushing the young grass seedlings with your knees.
Watering Established Native Meadow Grasses
- Once established (4 to 5 months after sowing and beyond), native grasses are very resilient to dry conditions. To keep it green and actively growing, some extra water may be needed during the hottest part of the summer when there has been little or no rain.
- When watering established native grasses during spells, irrigate long enough to put down 1/3 to 1/2" of water. Any less and the water won't penetrate deeply enough into the root zone to be of use.
- Use several coffee tins or other flat-bottomed containers scattered across the area to capture sprinkler water. Time your irrigation, then measure the water in the containers with a ruler. Then you'll know how long to run the sprinklers to put down adequate amounts of water.
- Un-irrigated native grasses may brown out in extended periods of hot, dry weather, but they will quickly green up again after a few good rains.
Tips For Integrating Wildflowers Into Native Grasses
It can be challenging to seed wildflowers at the same time your sowing your native grass mixes. Weeding your grass planting can be very difficult unless you have an experienced eye to distinguish between weeds and desirable wildflowers.
Western Trails Mix: Be sure to select wildflowers that germinate in hot weather and don't require winter cold to condition the flower seeds to germinate. Mix them into the sand/grass seed bucket at sowing time. If a wider range of wildflower types is desired for your Western Trails Mix, you can leave long rectangular bands or irregularly shaped areas in the grass unsown with grass seed. This allows you to go back in the fall to sow wildflower mixes that require winterizing ("cold stratification").
High Mountain Mix: Be sure to select mountain wildflowers that can germinate the following spring after getting the winter moist cold needed to overcome seed germination inhibitors. Mix them into the sand/grass seed bucket at sowing time.
Alternately, for either grass seed mixture, you can transplant potted wildflowers into the established warm or cool season grass meadows, choosing flower species that are good re-seeders to act as mother plants that will scatter seed naturally and fill into the grass over time.
Shop Grass Seeds
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Text and Photos by Founder and Chief Horticulturist David Salman.
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