Wildlife Habitat Help Tips
When planting grass mixtures with the goal of providing the best possible wildlife habitat in mind, there are several wildlife management tips to consider. By considering these general habitat tips before you purchase your seed, you can provide years of improved, productive wildlife habitat.
1. More Diversity = Better Habitat. The more species you include in your planting mixture, the better wildlife habitat you will have in the future. Consider using a high diversity mixture that includes plenty of forbs (wildflowers) and legumes whenever possible. By putting some time and effort into the design of your grass mixture, you will extend the years of wildlife habitat benefits you will see in the future.
2. The Balance Between Grasses and Forbs. If you want to keep forbs (wildflowers) in your planting for years to come and provide the best wildlife habitat possible, you will need to have a balance of 50% grass and 50% wildflowers in your initial mixture and planting. Better yet, have more than 50% of the mixture be wildflowers and legumes! Having a higher percentage of the seeding rate in your mixture dominated by forbs will mean that your habitat project will provide better results for more years. In addition, when management practices like fire, haying, grazing or disking are applied, the mixture will respond better to those management practices. Our biologists can design a custom mixture to meet your exact needs. Contact us for help and guidance today.
3. The Main Ingredient is Time. If you haven't planted a grass & wildflower mixture before, be prepared to have plenty of patience. Not all species in these mixtures become established quickly. In fact, some may take several years to appear in your planting. Have patience and enjoy the process.
4. Know Your Goals. Different mixtures produce different wildlife benefits. For example, there are key differences in managing for quail or pheasants or deer. By determining the long-term wildlife goals for your property, a wildlife biologist can better help you select and design the correct mixture for your project.
5. Don't Over Plant. More seeds per acre is not always better! Planting a grass mixture at a higher seeding rate may actually have a negative impact on both the cover and wildlife value. By planting heavier, the plants can become too thick and choke themselves out. Contact a wildlife biologist for suggestions on the best mixture and planting rate for your habitat project. The correct seeding rate should always be made based on the number of PLS seeds per square foot in a planting and not the pounds of seed being planted per acre.
6. Weed Control in Your New Planting. In many cases, your grass and wildflower planting will not require significant weed control to become established. While the new planting will certainly contain weeds and may look unsightly at first, this is also some of the most productive wildlife habitat you'll have. By resisting the urge to mow or spray your new planting, you can provide great wildlife habitat while the stand becomes established and have a great looking stand after 2 to 4 years. In areas of the country with higher annual precipitation rates (>30" per year), competition from other grasses may require the need to mow or spray with chemicals during the year of establishment.
7. Future Management. Where wildlife habitat is concerned, you never will be able to plant something, walk away for years and expect it to still be great habitat. If you want to produce more wildlife, you need to be managing your planting every 3 to 5 years. There are many conservation programs that can help you manage your grasslands for wildlife. Contact a Wildlife Biologist for assistance; we can help guide you through the maze of conservation programs and available assistance for landowners.
8. Planting Depth. If you are using a no-till grass drill to plant your grass mixtures, make sure that planting depth is considered. The goal should be to place the seed in the ground no deeper than a 1/4". Seed that is planted deeper than 1/2" will have reduced germination and may lead to stand establishment failure. If you are drilling grass seed into crop stubble such as corn, beans or milo, your goal should be to plant the seed so shallow that you see about 25% of the seed on the top of the ground when you are finished planting! Planting too shallow is rarely a problem, planting the seed too deep is always a problem.
9. When to Plant: Fall vs. Spring. While many people feel that all grass planting should occur in the spring, another successful option is to plant grass in the fall in a dormant grass seeding. A dormant grass/forb seeding occurs when seeds are planted after the first hard freeze (around November 1st in most areas of the country) and before the end of February. Dormant grass/forb seedings have the advantage of being able to perform field work when conditions are drier and no-till drills are more available for use. In addition, the freezing and thawing action of winter can speed germination of some wildflower seeds that have a hard seed coat and dormancy. When planting in the spring, available moisture in the summer months will be the greatest factor determining your success. For areas of the country with less than 30" of annual precipitation, planting grasses by April 30th is generally advised.