Everyone wants to plant more cover for wildlife yet each year we get behind and have to ask ourselves…Is it too late? My brother-in-law Dave and I scratched our heads on that one this year as well. Let’s break this down to see how we derived at our answer.
The seed – we were thinking about planting warm-season native grasses such as Big bluestem, Little bluestem, Switchgrass, Indian grass, etc. for more winter cover for wildlife as well as some limited nesting cover on a few acres in southeast NE. We thought about cool season grasses such as Wheat grass, Orchard grass, etc. but really like warm-seasons found in CRP mixes. What is the difference? Well scientifically one type of grass uses a C3 pathway and the other a C4 Carbon pathway but most of us could care less about that. It really boils down to germination, growth season, etc. Cool season grasses are of the first to germinate with a bit of soil moisture a rising soil temps in early spring. The warm-season grasses usually germinate later in the spring to early summer and grow throughout the summer and begin dormancy in late summer to early fall. In the fall, the cool season grasses are getting their second wind and put on another growth spurt.
We were concerned about the warm-season grasses lack of tolerance to early freezes. Afterall it is september already. While cool season grasses may germinate quickly this time of year and then go dormant with frost, it would be pretty dangerous for warm-season grasses to germinate late September to early October and survive a few early frost periods.
We decided to work some soil now and wait until early November to plant the warm-season seed (called a dormant planting). This method has many advantages which include:
1. perfect for procrastinators like us!
2. The freeze – thaw cycles all winter and early spring will work more seed into good soil contact and actually help our seed coat during germination.
3. The seed will be in perfect position to germinate when soil temps are favorable and moisture is present giving our grasses an advantage over the weeds.
4. It will keep our fall procrastination from becoming a spring procrastination.
5. Our seed will be in perfect position to take advantage of spring rains.
These native grasses know how to survive in NE and generally spend the first year putting down roots so while we expect our 2011 field to be somewhat weedy and not at all resembling the lush CRP fields of NE, by 2012 our field will look like some of the best cover to be found in the area. It will serve as bedding areas for deer, turkey loafing areas, winter cover for upland birds, and just plain nice scenery for us.
Adapt to your needs and put something down for wildlife! Thanks Dave for the great idea and for being a good steward of the land!
Get Em’ Out There