Gentle Readers, as I began thinking about writing an article for this issue of Lifestyle magazine, I went to one of my favorite references; Native American Seed Company in Junction, Texas. If you have not yet discovered this Hill Country jewel, think about making an outing to Junction just to see their operation and meet the Neiman family (please call ahead to schedule your visit). You can go for a short visit or stay at one of their on-site guest houses. Understanding the care and commitment they give to producing seeds that are not only native to the Texas Hill Country, but harvested here in the Hill Country makes them truly unique. As I read their message on fall, I could not imagine saying anything more eloquently than what they had written. So I called my friend, Emily Neiman for permission to share their wisdom with you. Here it is.
As you consider fall planting from seed … Think.
Issues to consider are sun, drainage, soils, planting time, weather, existing plants and dormant weed seeds, residual chemicals, your tools and equipment, expectations, and your budget. Take responsibility and care for the land. Use common sense. The natives are very friendly.
Read the Land
Touch the earth and quietly listen. One-hundred-fifty years ago only native plants grew here. Though many changes have occurred, they would love to come back home. We encourage you to become native to your place. When choosing your site, read your land and how it lays. A compatible matching of seeds and planting sites is important. Most annual spring blooming wildflowers are cool season plants. They sprout and grow during the fall-winter. They bloom go to seed and then die back in late spring-summer. Plant these types of wildflower seeds in early fall. August through November is the best time, the earlier the better. The perennial wildflowers can be planted in spring or fall. Many perennials develop strong, deep tuberous roots the first year before producing blooms. Exotic cool season grasses and clovers are not compatible with wildflowers. Warm season native grass seeds germinate when soil temps are above 65° F. Regarding the best time to plant native grasses; it is true that late spring gives the best chances of success in normal rainfall years. However, successful plantings may be made up until 90 days before the first frost. The tradeoff is the daily passing of this year’s growing season which translates into lighter top growth. Sprouting is triggered by soil temperature, moisture, and daylight hours. And of course there are always exceptions. If you need assistance, visit our website or please call us. Our staff is ready to help you.
If you have existing warm season grass, mow short, and then remove thatch. Small sites can be hand raked or tilled no more than one inch deep to expose bare soil. Almost all soils contain dormant weed seeds, which will be awakened by excessive tilling. A “weedy” site may signal that special attention is required. Reduce invasive perennial weeds such as Bermuda, KR bluestem, buffel, vasey, and johnsongrassprior to planting native grass. Till and remove roots if possible. For small plots, consider using black plastic to solarize and kill weeds during hot summer months. For large areas, consider plowing with a tractor and various implements several times before seeding to expose, freeze, or dry unwanted roots. If you choose chemical weed killers, get advice from your county extension agent. The least amount of soil disturbance will have the most favorable results, unless other objectives such as breaking hard clay sub-soils or incorporating organic matter and minerals are desired. When planting a native grass lawn, many people prefer to take special care. By starting with a weed-free, smoothly raked seedbed, the recommended lawn seeding rates are then applied. The lawn is kept weeded and watered until healthynative grass plants are established.
The Act of Seeding
Achieve good seed to soil contact. Spread seed by hand, like “feeding the chickens”. A broadcast spreader or a seed drill is good for larger areas. Heavier seeding rates will work to your benefit. In comparing lost time maintaining weed control in a thin planting, the value of native seeds is very economical. Mix fluffy or small seeds with a “carrier” for even distribution. Carriers such as coarse sand, perlite, rice hulls, or other extenders aid in keeping seeds in suspension. This seed-carrier mix creates a “free flowing” characteristic as needed to broadcast the seed. Take half the seed mixture and spread it evenly over the whole area. Then cross back in opposite directions and spread the rest. Most seeds should never be buried more than twice their diameter. Do not bury small seeds at all! One of the most common reasons that seeds fail to come up is that they have been planted too deeply. Someseeds will be visible on the ground. Try using the sweeping motion of a tree branch or a leaf rake followed by a rollerpacker or the boots of a big foot. A diligent effort should be made to press the seeds into the soil. A firm seed-to-soil contact is very important.
Nature allows seeds to lie dormant in the soil until rain falls. If you choose to irrigate, keep up with your watering until plants are established. For germination, water lightly and frequently to prevent top of soil from drying out. Rain gauges placed throughout the seeded areas can help you monitor daily watering. When wildflower seedlings are about 1 inch tall or grass seedlings have 3 to 5 blades per sprout, reduce the frequency of watering to 2 or 3 times weekly. Increase water per application to achieve greater soaking depths for development of healthy root systems. Alternate soil moisture from good deep soakings to moderately dry in between watering. Roots need a balance of oxygen. Reduce frequency of watering over time as plants become established. Supplemental water may be discontinued as seasonal rains return.
Encourage and Enjoy
We walk softly helping the young budding plants by pulling out exotic grasses and broadleaf weeds. We effectively reduce these weeds year by year by limiting the seeds they make. Do not mow dying wildflowers too early! Seed production for next year should be encouraged. Most of the seeds must be allowed to mature ‘on the vine’ before mowing. Nature’s plan goes on with us and without us. Be patient. Those who plant seeds play an intimate role in the experience of life. Connecting the miracle of a seed to the forces of earth and sky brings immeasurable joy to one’s heart.