Plant Native Grasses and Wildflowers in Spring
If you're like most gardeners and farmers in the area, some of our 70 degree days have you gearing up and ready to plant something. And when it comes to planting grass, I’d like you to pause and think a little about your options before you sow that fescue, brome, or bluegrass.
You see, the default option is to plant one of our common cool season grasses. And why not. The seed is easily available, most of you have past experience with planting cool season grasses, and they do relatively well in most years baring a long summer drought. But I’d like you to consider some of the native warm season grasses, or even some native wildflowers (often called forbs) for your next planting excursion.
You may not have considered these grasses and wildflowers in the past because the seed isn’t quite as available, it costs quite a bit more for the seed, and it takes more time to establish. And while all these points are true, this may be the year to try some. Here’s why.
It’s hard to beat warm season grasses and wildflowers for wildlife benefit. They provide great cover for nesting birds, small mammals and even large mammals. The seeds of native grasses and wildflowers provide food for many species of birds and a great source of nectar for pollinators like bees, wasps, hummingbirds and others. And with the increasing decline in bee populations for a number of reasons, providing more pollinator habitat is a good idea.
Seed sources are actually available but you’ll need to look for them a little harder. Start out by asking your local seed supplier if they can get warm season grass seed or native wildflower seed. If not, consider a quick web search for native grass or forb seed in Kansas or Missouri. My search gave me several companies that specialize in these seeds with lots of options for varieties and mixes.
And so what about the extra cost? Yes, you can pay more than double for warm season grasses as compared to cool season grasses, but there is a new cost-share program that can help. Johnson County Stormwater Managemenet just announced a cost-share program that will pay for half the seed cost of a recommended native grass or pollinator seed mix. That may be just the incentive you need to consider planting something a little different. You can learn more about the program by clicking here.
The planting window for warm season grasses and wildflowers can occur anytime from December through May, but an optimum time frame would be throughout April and the first half of May. It will be important for you to kill out existing and competing vegetation before you plant your seed and that can be done with tillage and/or herbicides. And while I normally preach soil testing first, native grasses and forbs will generally do well regardless of soil fertility levels. In fact, unless the pH or some other major element is extremely deficient, we will not recommend additional fertilizer for native grasses. Fertilizers tend to only encourage cool season grasses, weeds, and brushy species to grow.
If you have questions on establishing native grasses and forbs, send me an e-mail at Jessica.Barnett@jocogov.org. I’d love to talk with you more.