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Maintaining Your Native Prairie Planting

by Todd Graf 29. March 2011 15:13
Todd Graf

As of late we have been seeing a lot more attention being put on creating more bedding areas for deer - whether that is creating clear cuts in your woodlots to create additional cover, or planting native prairies they both will need attention to make sure you get the results you want. This will be my second year now with my prairie planting and I came across this informational piece that was created by Habitat Forever. I originally hired them to put in a prairie and this is some documentation they had provided me on how to maintain the native prairie. Remember this does not cover burnings, as most people recommend waiting until your prairie is 3 years old before you burn it off, otherwise this is a great read, especially if you're just getting started. Enjoy!

Maintaining Your New Native Prairie Planting

You’ve done all the right prep work, better yet; you’ve had your local Habitat Specialist do your prep work…so you know it was done right.  The seeds are in the ground and things are starting to green up.  This is not the time to sit back and let nature take its’ course.  Not just yet.  A new prairie planting must be vigilantly maintained in the first and second seasons of its long life.

New native grass and wildflower seedlings always grow down before they grow up.  That means they are establishing a root system before they put on top growth.  Even under ideal conditions, a native seedling will only grow a few inches high in the first season.  The first season is a critical time for a new prairie planting.  Regardless of how much herbicide prep was done, dormant weed seeds will germinate in your prairie in the first and sometimes into the second season.  These undesirable weeds can out-compete the slower growing native perennials for light and nutrients.  If left unchecked, these weeds will continue to produce seed and continue to proliferate in your new prairie planting.

How do you keep this from happening? MOW!

Maintenance Mowing During The First Season:

The rule of thumb in the first season is to mow the new prairie to a height of SIX INCHES (no lower) each time the average height of the planting reaches 12 INCHES.  If you wait too long to mow, you can actually do more harm than good because the cut thatch will shade out the new seedlings and stunt their growth.  Depending on rainfall, you may have to mow once a month from June to September in the first season.  If you are not able to do this mowing until late in the season, it’s better to wait and start mowing next year unless you have a way of removing the cut thatch.

Maintenance Mowing During The Second Season:

The rule of thumb in the second season is to mow the new prairie to a heights of 10-12 INCHES (no lower) each time the average heights reaches 24 INCHES.  If you don’t have a mower that can be set this high, beg, borrow or rent one that can! Mowing too low in the second season can set establishment time back by a full season.  The second season of mowing is not as critical as the first, but it will ensure good survival of your new native plants. If you don’t do this mowing, you MAY still get establishment of your prairie in patchy areas.  Ignoring the importance of this early mowing maintenance is the second leading cause of failed prairie plantings…second only to improper site prep.


Here is one shot of a native stand that was planted 1 year ago, after we had over 24 inches of snow! Several sheds were found right around the edges where bucks were laying down while enjoying some southern exposure.


Buring is recommended after the 3rd year from planting.

Is anyone planning on establishing a native prairie this year?




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