Seed Mix Establishment: Planting the Prairie Seed

OPTION 1 – Hand Broadcasting Your Seed

  • Start with a freshly tilled seed bed free of rocks or soil clumps greater than two inches in diameter. If seeding in fall, please see the special fall planting tip below.
  • Do not plant when your soil is wet, especially in heavy
    clay soils. Wait until the soil has dried and is workable before planting.
  • Mix all seed (including annual rye or oat nurse crop) with a carrier. This carrier can be sawdust, peat moss, clean sand (playground or builders sand), or vermiculite, (it does not matter what carrier you use; whatever is most readily available to you). You will need to use two bushel baskets or 2.5 cubic feet of any one of these “carriers” per 1,000 square feet of area you are covering with seed. For one acre this equals filling the bed of a standard pick-up truck with the carrier, (which holds 72 cubic feet). Using this quantity of carrier is critical to achieve even distribution of the prairie seed. Please do not skip this step, or you will quickly run out of seed to cover your site!
  • Dampen the seed/carrier mixture with water, just until it is slightly damp to the touch. The water is necessary so the light prairie seed adheres to the carrier which aids in even distribution of the seed.
  • After mixing your seed into the light carrier, divide this mixture into two equal parts.
  • Hand broadcast one half of the seed mixture over the entire site (i.e. in a north to south direction).
  • Hand broadcast the second half of the seed over the site; walking perpendicular to the direction you seeded the first half. This “cross pattern” seeding ensures even seed distribution.
  • Rake or drag the area lightly, covering the broadcasted seed/carrier with about 1/4 to 1/2 inch of soil. (Do not bring in topsoil to achieve this, as this will potentially introduce more weed seed on your site).
  • Firm the seeded area by rolling the site with a hand roller, cultipacker, tractor or vehicle.  Prairie seed requires firm seed to soil contact for good germination.
  • Mulch the planting area with approximately one inch of weed free straw or marsh hay (do not use field hay as it contains weeds). Mulch can be laid by hand or blown onto the site mechanically. The mulch will help control erosion on slopes and helps to retain soil moisture during the germination period. If working on gradual slopes or erosion prone sites, cover the mulch with a photo-degradable plastic or natural mesh with one half inch openings to allow for unimpeded wildflower seedling development. Secure the mesh with landscape staples placed at one to two foot intervals.

OPTION 2 – Mechanical Planting of Prairie Seed
On areas greater than one acre, it is more efficient to plant using a broadcast or a no-till planter. The broadcast planter spreads the seed over the soil, whereas the no-till seeders plant the seeds in rows by opening slits in the soil. The broadcast seeder we recommend is the Brillion double box agricultural model, typically used to seed alfalfa and grass mixture, but equipped with native grass bristle brushes in the larger front box rather than the standard steel wire agitators. No-till seeders commonly used for prairie plantings include the Truax drill, the Tye wildflower and native grass seeder, and John Deere seeders. On gradual slopes, mulching and erosion fabric may be necessary to prevent the seed from washing prior to its establishment. For hydro mulching, only use cellulose-based mulch and do not use a tackifier. Although grasses are able to penetrate through a tackifier, the wildflowers typically cannot.

OPTION 3 – Hydro seeding
We do not recommend hydro seeding of prairies. Hydro seeding does not achieve firm seed to soil contact and will result in poor germination. We have encountered numerous failures using this method.

Fall Planting Tip
This technique works only on sites that have had all weed eliminated by smothering or herbicide use. If the result of this process reveals dead vegetation which is very sparse with a good deal of mineral soil present below the dead vegetation, you can seed right into this vegetation. First cut down any vegetation with a lawn mower and rake it off, the cut vegetation may impede seed to soil contact. The seed will work its way down into the soil through the freeze and thaw process throughout winter. This method can only be accomplished in the fall. This method will not work in spring as the seed will not be worked into the soil without ground freeze and thaw. It is important to roll the seeded area so the seed is impacted into the soil.

Watering
This is optional, as prairies will germinate without additional watering, they will simply germinate more slowly without the watering.  If watering is possible, water spring and summer seedings regularly during the first six to eight weeks after planting for higher germination and seedling survival. Water just enough to keep the soil moist, every other day for 15 to 30 minutes. Over watering can drown seedlings, especially on heavy clay soils. Water in the early morning, as watering during the day can be ineffective and wasteful. After eight weeks, water only if it does not rain for one week. Afternoon and evening water encourages seedling loss by fungal attack.

Up next: Post Planting Maintenance


Designed for areas of 1000 square feet or more, we’ve designed 24 native seed mixes for virtually any soil or condition:  http://www.prairienursery.com/store/seed-mixes


Establishing a native plant seed mix is a long-term investment in your landscape, which requires careful planning. When questions arise a one-on-one conversation may be the best way to get the information you need. Don’t hesitate to call us at 800-476-9453, Mon. – Fri., 8am – 5pm, CST. Or, email us at cs@prairienursery.com. We are happy to discuss individual complexities in order to make your planting a success.