This is the time of year to winter seed your prairie. Whoa! What does that mean? Why would you want to seed a prairie in the winter time? You seed in the winter because it is the easiest way to stratify new native seed in preparation for germination in the spring.
It’s pretty simple. Here’s how you do it. Typically, you’d plan to do this before the first snowfall, but it can also be done once there is snow on the ground. Preferably not too deep of a snow covering, however, since it makes it more difficult physically to tramp around and broadcast the seed.
Pick a day to broadcast your native seed just before a snow fall, and hopefully one that’s not too windy. Sowing native seeds just before a snowfall, covers the seed and allows the winter weather (snow, sleet, freezing rain, etc) to work it into the ground. The freezing and thawing provided by the weather drills the seed into the ground and with Mother Nature’s help, to the exact depth for proper germination. In the spring when the soil temperature begins to rise, the seed germinates.
Late November to Mid-March is the perfect time to do this. Earlier in the fall is not recommended because if the seed germinates before winter sets, the new seedlings may freeze off during the winter. Later may not allow enough freeze-thaw cycles to satisfactorily drill the native seed down into the earth for proper germination in the spring.
The winter seeding method can be used for a new prairie seeding (as long as the site prep work has been accomplished ahead of time) or for overseeding to fill in the spots that didn’t fill in with seedlings from the original seeding. The seed can be purchased from a local native plant nursery or can be gathered in the fall from your local Wild Ones chapter seed gathering locations or from their annual seed exchange. I mix the seed with hamster bedding or sawdust. These materials help to give some bulk to the seed and allow you to see where you’ve already broadcast.
I like winter seeding because it allows me to mimic nature, and nothing could be more sure than that. Seeds drop in the fall and germinate in the spring. That’s about as easy as it can get.
So if winter seeding (sometimes called dormant seeding) is something that appeals to you, don’t hesitate any longer. Get yourself outside and sow those prairie seeds. What a great reason to get outside and play!