Choosing the right timeline
First off, if you are doing a planting with the help of government cost-share, make sure you stick to their timeline or get permission to deviate from it.
Otherwise, choosing an establishment timeline begins with identifying the existing vegetation and determining the end goal of the planting. In essence, “I’m going from a field with A to a field of B.”
To maximize your investment in seed, follow an establishment plan to get the best chance of success. Remember, these timelines are guidelines. Weather and individual situations can change the process and the dates mentioned are only recommendations.
During establishment and for the life of a native planting, always consider the movement of seed with vehicles and equipment. We recommend you blow down or wash off equipment and vehicles before entering the field, especially if the equipment/vehicle was recently used in a field ripe with seed of a species you do not want in your native planting (e.g. fescue, sericea, Johnsongrass).
Find your current field situation below to help narrow down the best establishment plan for your situation. Or use our interactive Planting Timeline Selector.
Undesirable vegetation is gone
In some situations, the undesirable vegetation has already been removed or killed (or thinned in the case of a forest of trees). The establishment timelines that most often apply in this situation include the Crop Field Establishment Plan, the New Dirt Work Establishment Plan, and the Savanna Establishment Plan, which is for areas where the trees have been logged or significantly thinned.
Overseeding in Native Warm Season Grasses (NWSG)
Perhaps you already have a native warm season grass planting and you desire to add diversity of native wildflowers (forbs) and/or native cool season grasses. The Adding Diversity to an Existing Warm Season Grass Planting Plan is a good start in this situation.
In some situations, the existing vegetation needs to be killed so that the native plants can successfully establish. In this case, you need to identify the existing vegetation first so you can develop a plan of attack. If you have predominately fescue or fescue/clover, there are multiple timelines to choose from. To narrow down the choices, it is important to decide the end goal of the planting.
End goal: Native Warm Season Grasses only
If the end goal is to simply have the native warm season grasses, the herbicides Panoramic (also called Plateau) and Atrazine may be useful. The Panoramic Establishment Plan for Warm Season Grasses Only works well for establishing Big Bluestem, Indiangrass, Little Bluestem, and/or Sideoats Grama. The Atrazine Establishment Plan for Warm Season Grasses Only, on the other hand, works well for establishing Eastern Gama Grass and Switchgrass.
End goal: diversity of native plants
If you plan to include both native warm season grasses and native cool season grasses and/or wildflowers (forbs) in your planting, choose an establishment plan to accommodate this diversity of plants. If forage is not a primary goal, the Traditional Establishment Plan for Diversity is often the favorite choice. When forage is a main objective, there are three establishment timelines that can work well:
Dry & mesic sites for forage
On dry and mesic sites, the Traditional Establishment Plan for Diversity and the Panoramic Establishment Plan for Diversity are both good options. Here are some pros and cons to consider when choosing between them.
The panoramic/plateau herbicide eliminates a good deal of annual weed competition while establishing some of the native warm season grasses. For this reason, it is often a good choice for folks without a lot of planting experience. However, the Panoramic timeline does contain a split seeding (e.g. planting in the spring and then again in the following winter).
On the other hand, the Traditional timeline allows for planting all of the native seed at one time and gives the option of a year of cover-cropping. The Traditional timeline is particularly fitting if you expect lower-than-average weed pressure.
Wet Sites for Forage
When the site it wet, the Traditional Establishment Plan for Diversity and the Atrazine Establishment Plan for Diversity are both good options. Here are some pros and cons to consider when choosing between them.
Atrazine is an herbicide that is helpful with the establishment of some warm season grasses and using this herbicide in the establishment may give an edge over weeds. However, it is a restricted-use herbicide and has extra rules that go along with it. Also, when establishing a Diverse Native Grassland with Atrazine, it will require a split seeding (e.g. planting in the spring and then again in the following winter). The Atrazine method may be a particularly good choice when this is one of the first native warm season grass plantings because it gives the extra control over weeds during establishment.
On the other hand, the Traditional timeline allows for planting the native seed all at once and gives an opportunity for a year of cover-cropping. The Traditional timeline is particularly fitting if you expect lower-than-average weed pressure.
Using herbicides before planting native plants is widely recognized as the best method and is generally the most successful. If the concern of using herbicides overrides all other factors, we have put together some tips and techniques in the Non-Herbicide Establishment Plan. However, these methods require you to really seek to understand the principles and be a good observer to achieve some level of success.