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Traditional Establishment Plan for Diversity

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 diverse native grassland

The Traditional Establishment Plan is an ideal method to use when converting a fescue/clover pasture to a planting with a lot of diversity. It is especially applicable when a good component of cool season grasses and grass-like species are desired.

These guidelines are for fescue/clover pastures that maybe contain some Spotted Knapweed or even an abundance of Broomsedge. If the pasture contains Bermudagrass, Johnson Grass, Sericea Lespedeza, Caucasian Bluestem, Crown Vetch or other problematic species, the guidelines may need to be adjusted.

The timeline below details a process to kill the existing vegetation, but an alternative is to grow glyphosate-resistant crops for two consecutive years before planting natives. See the notes below for more information on cropping to establish natives.

Kill existing vegetation

before starting establishment
It’s crucial to remove unwanted trees and other unwanted obstructions from within the field and its edges before staring establishment plan. Fewer obstacles in the field (e.g. unwanted buildings, equipment, trees, brush, fence, etc.) make it easier to get equipment around the field and therefore get a better kill without as much hand work. A better kill will decrease the chance of reinvasion of undesirable plants from the edges and spray misses. While this step is optional, it is a good idea to take a look at the site with this in mind before starting the other actions in this timeline.
early August, year 1
Before fall rains, graze, mow, or hay the area so that it will be actively growing and herbicide can make good contact with the regrowth of all plants.
September 1-15, year 1
Fescue should be sprayed when actively growing. If the fall rains have not come, delay the spraying until fescue is actively growing. If fescue is really the only weed of concern, the field can even be sprayed up through early November. Follow up on any misses and pay special attention to fence lines, field borders, areas under trees, creek banks, and other hard to get to areas.
around May, year 2
Once fescue and other weed seedlings have had time to germinate and grow in spring, spray again. If warm seasons are also being targeted, aim for late May.
immediately following the spray, year 2

Good cover crops include: Sorghum Sudangrass (this species is allelopathic, so it may inhibit establishment of the fall-planted cover crops), Pearl Millet, Soybeans, Buckwheat, and Cowpeas. Get seed-to-soil contact by drilling the seed or broadcasting and dragging. Keep in mind that bigger seeds need more soil coverage while it is easy to get too much coverage with smaller seeds. If the cover crop is not supressing weeds very well and these weeds look like they are going to make seed, the planting should be sprayed with roundup and the cover crop needs to be replanted.

summer, year 2
The cover crop is acting as a smother crop, so it should not be allowed to make seed. If it is starting to go to seed, graze it or mow it immediately. Graze, harvest, or mow the cover crop in such a way that a smothering canopy of plants remain. However, the last graze, harvest, or mow of the summer before fall rains (early August) should open up the canopy to encourage germination of weed seeds and allow good penetration of herbicide with the next spray.
September 1-15, year 2
At least a couple weeks after a nice fall rain that has encouraged germination of seeds, spray again. This can be done as late as early November if fescue is the only target, but because of the late planting date, cover crop growth will be limited by the onset of winter.

immediately following the spray,  year 2

Spring Oats, Turnips, Tillage Radishes (also called Daikon Radish), and Rape all work well. Again, do not let the cover crops make seed.
fall / winter, year 2
The cold of winter plus a graze, harvest, or mow should kill out the above-mentioned cover crops. Leave some plant material as soil cover after grazing, harvesting, or mowing for soil protection and health.

Plant native seeds

winter, year 2/3
January is a great target, but definitely plant before February 15.

Notes on using herbicides

Always read and follow label directions of an herbicide! The labels are not only helpful in knowing how to be safe, but they also provide great information about how the herbicide is most effective and how to keep the soil and environment healthy.

Notes on cropping an area

Another alternative to the “Kill existing vegetation” section of the establishment plan above is to grow glyphosate-resistant crops for two consecutive years before jumping in with the “Plant native seeds” section. Other herbicide/crop combinations may also be used, but it is important to ensure the herbicides do not have a carryover problem in the soil that will impact the native seedlings.

Identify the plants in the field so that the proper herbicide(s) may be used. During the two years of cropping before establishing natives, make sure that weed seeds do not fall on the ground, and also make sure that the perennial plants have been killed.

Crops may be harvested by any means that do not introduce weed seeds to the field, such as combine, cutting for silage, or grazing.

When converting crop fields, usually field borders, fence lines, grassed waterways, etc. are not killed out and planted to crop, but it is important to make sure these areas also undergo cropping for two years or the timeline outlined above is followed on these areas. If this is not done, seeds from these areas pollute and invade the native planting.

Sometimes long-term crop fields do not establish well, possibly because the soil biology is unhealthy. If you feel this is the case with your field, consider cover cropping and other techniques to boost soil health before planting natives.

We’ll walk you through every step from site preparation and planting to maintenance.
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