Tom's Blog

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Good time to plant seeds

Today Susan, Kathie, and I planted seeds on the Crane Prairie road cut. This prairie had been burned in November. We prefer to plant a unit after it has been burned, since the seeds have a much better chance of reaching the soil. Although this prairie had been originally planted in December 2005 and had just finished its sixth growing season, the road cut still needed help. The steep, south-facing slope, is dry to dry-mesic in character. Ultimately, we would like to see little bluestem as the dominant plant, with a mixture of dry-site forbs.

Planting a road cut is fairly tricky, since footing is difficult. A dry winter is ideal, since frozen ground provides a stable base. Today, most of the road cut was snow-free.

We mixed the seeds with sawdust in the barn and distributed into six buckets. Kathie planted along the top of the road cut, throwing seeds down, and Susan walked along the bottom throwing seeds up. (I had the easy job, using the Mule to distribute buckets along the road.) There was just a light wind, so the seeds mostly went where they were thrown.

Is planting a road cut worth doing? Definitely yes. The road cut is usually the most difficult location to get prairie established. Parts of it have usually been mowed, which often encourages the growth of smooth brome, an exotic rhizomatous grass that is very difficult to eliminate. Although the Crane Prairie road cut, being downhill, had not been mowed, it had a different problem, heavy brush: brambles, honeysuckle, and sumac. These had been eradicated either by cutting and treating, or basal bark. (The last sumac clone was dealt with in November, just before the burn.) Getting a good prairie sod established is an important goal, because it will provide fuel for burns and hence discourage brush.

The photo below shows what one hopes a road cut will eventually look like. This area is just across the road from the Crane Prairie, and has been under restoration for about 15 years. Little bluestem is the dominant, but lots of other "good" prairie species are present.

We still have plenty of planting to do, although most of it will have to wait until our spring burns are finished (not too far in the future!).


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