New Dirt Work Establishment Plan
Following an establishment plan
To maximize your investment in seed, follow the establishment plan to get the best chance of success. 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).
Choose the best timeline
If you’re not sure this is the right establishment plan for your situation, use our Planting Timeline Selector or read the Establishment Plans Overview.
Establishing diversity after construction
Many times after the construction of a pond, home, road, or on other construction sites, the soil has been disturbed and there is no topsoil remaining. This can create a very droughty, inhospitable condition for plant growth.
Adding topsoil to the site is an option; however it is quite expensive and many times can be more of a problem than a solution as this soil contains an abundance of weed seeds. These weeds can cause problems in the planting at a later date and potentially out-compete the native plants.
Since the topsoil has been removed from these areas, much of the soil’s water holding capacity has also been lost. As a result, choose plants or mixes that love dry sites.
Once construction is completed, apply lime and fertilizer uniformly and, if possible, work them into the area to be seeded in amounts according to soil test or using the minimum amounts listed below:
- Limestone: 1,500 lbs ENM/acre
- Nitrogen: 30 lbs/acre
- Phosphate: 90 lbs/acre
- Potash: 90 lbs/acre
The soil is in its best condition for seeding immediately after construction, however, seasonally this may not be the best time to plant native seeds. The following is a rough guide to establishing native grasses and wildflowers on sites where construction is completed during the various times of the year listed below.
Construction complete: November 1 – February 1
Plant native seeds as soon as possible.
Construction complete: February 1 – May 15
Purchase wildflower seeds and cold-moist stratify seeds for four to six weeks in a refrigerator. Mix these with native grasses and plants by May 15. See guide on cold moist stratification to understand this process.
The earlier one plants, the better. If water is available for irrigation, you could plant as late as June 15.
Construction complete: May 15 – August 31
Plant cover crop. Maxi gain sorghum Sudan is a great choice. However, other summer annuals, such as millet, may be used, but ensure that it does not produce seed.
It is best to disk or till cover crop between November and February before planting your desired mix between January 1 and February 15.
If disking is difficult to do, evaluate the cover crop, keeping in mind the importance of seed to soil contact, and decide if broadcasting the seed on top is an option.
Either way, broadcast seeds on top of ground by February 15 and let the weather put seeds in contact with soil to aid in germination. Increase seeding rates for an inferior seed bed.
Construction complete: August 31 – October 31
Plant cover crop of oats and or wheat. It is best to lightly disk or till cover crop before planting your desired mix between January 1 and February 1.
If disking is difficult to do, evaluate the cover crop, keeping in mind the importance of seed to soil contact. Broadcast seeds on top of ground by January 1, and let the weather put seeds in contact with soil to aid in germination. Then spray with an herbicide by March 1. Increase seeding rates for the inferior seed bed.
If only you’re only planting Warm Season Native Grasses, you can do a dormant seeding November through March or plant April through June 15.
If a cover crop is present, and disking is difficult to do, evaluate the cover crop, keeping in mind the importance of seed to soil contact. Complete your planting by May 1. Increase seeding rates for the inferior seed bed. If wheat or oats has been used for cover crop, spraying as explained in above may be needed.
Mulching with a weed-free straw is advisable on these critical areas. A layer of straw mulch (50% of ground left visible) will allow seedlings to germinate but conserve water at the soil surface. On steep sites, mulch heavier (20% of ground left visible). Increase seeding rates on erosive slopes because it is difficult to keep seed in place. Mulching may not be required if a cover crop has been used and not disked before planting.
On erosive sites with long or steep slopes and/or where there is a concentrated flow of water, it is possible that seeds can be carried away in the flow of water. In this case, you should cold-moist stratify seeds and plant around May 1. Mulching the site with weed-free mulch can help reduce the risk as well. If irrigation water is available, water lightly each week for a month so that the seedlings get a good start.
If a cover crop has been used, broadcast another 30 pounds of nitrogen per acre with the wildflowers at seeding time as nitrogen will be used in the breakdown of the cover crop.