Installation and Establishment
Prairie strips are most easily established in fields which have previously been used for tilled annual row crop production (Jarchow and Liebman, 2011). Seeding following soybeans is especially favored for prairie strip establishment because the tilled field will have a reduced seed bank of annual weed seed and the soybean stubble will decompose readily (Jarchow and Liebman, 2011).
Nonetheless, if the correct procedures are followed prairie can be easily established following any crop or land cover.
Residual effects from previous herbicide use can prevent prairie establishment. Check herbicide use history and read herbicide labels to determine plant-back times. If herbicides are being used to eradicate annual or perennial weeds prior to planting use herbicides with relatively fast plant-back times (STRIPS, 2017c). Crop Data Management Systems (CDMS) maintains a searchable database of herbicide labels, which include information about plant-back restriction times.
Fields with effective weed control prior to seeding prairie will have fewer establishment challenges. Abandoned fields, weedy fields, or pastures with higher seed banks of annual weed seed will require additional management. Multiple rounds of secondary tillage or herbicide application should be used to control and remove weeds prior to seeding prairie. Extra attention should be given to perennial weed species such as Canada Thistle (STRIPS, 2017a).
Preparing the seed bed
Tillage versus No-tillage
In many cases, prairie established in areas of high erodibility and no-till methods will be preferred. However, in some cases tillage may be required in order to rework eroded ground, eradicate weeds, or to ensure good seed to soil contact. A tillage method which adequately prepares the seed bed and minimizes impacts to soil erosion should be selected. Planting into a weed-free seed bed will aide successful establishment.
A variety of planting methods which include hand seeding, drilling and broadcast seeding may be used depending on the size of the area to be seeded and the time of the year.
Pictured above is a prairie strip being frost-seeded during the dormant season.
When should I plant prairie?
Prairie can be planted at various times throughout the year. Providing good seed to soil contact, adequate soil moisture, and limited competition from weed species will benefit prairie growth and establishment. It is preferable to seed in either the fall after harvest, or the spring, before or after planting (but before June 30 in Iowa). Midsummer is generally not a good time to plant. Each timeframe has its own advantages and disadvantages which should be considered prior to deciding when to plant prairie.
Fall and Winter seeding – Prairie can be seeded during the dormant season in the fall or winter after other field operations have been completed and before spring fieldwork begins. Fall and winter seeding can be planted using either a drill or a broadcast seeder. Fall and winter seeding will experience less seed loss from predation such as bird feeding. Extreme weather conditions during the fall and winter may prove to be the biggest challenge with fall and winter seeding.
Spring and Summer seeding – Seed planted in the spring or summer should be drilled to avoid loss from bird feeding. Spring and summer seeding encourages warm season grasses (STRIPS, 2017a). A disadvantage to spring and summer seeding is that it directly conflicts with spring and summer field activities. When seeding in the spring and summer seed treatments are encouraged to reduce negative effects from cool moist soil conditions during the spring.
Click the link to learn more about: When is the best time of year to plant prairie strips?
Recommended Seeding Methods:
Broadcast – If the seeds are planted in the fall or winter broadcast seeders can be used because the freeze and thaw cycles will prepare the seed for germination and work the seed into the ground (STRIPS, 2017a).
Drill – Seed should be drilled no deeper than one-quarter inch with good seed to soil contact (STRIPS, 2017a). Additionally, the use of a GPS-equipped tractor is recommended to ensure accurate placement in more elaborate designs. Seed can be drilled directly into existing crop residue. Local county conservation or NRCS offices may have a small grain drill available for the use of seeding prairie.