Reference my blog post titled Winter Seeding Your Prairie. I usually use the winter seeding of my prairie as a general overseeding of the prairie. Recently, a gentleman from Ohio e-mailed to ask me a few questions.
He began with the statement, “I’m working with the USDA’s Conservation Stewardship Program and planning on doing a conservation cover for pollinators and beneficial insects. I have purchased my seeds and plan on planting this winter.” Here are his questions along with my responses:
- How should I prepare the soil? Is the soil just an old field that’s ready to be planted? All invasive seeds and weed seeds have to be cleaned from the soil before planting the prairie seed. Just putting in the prairie seed without any management plan is setting yourself up for defeat.
- When should the prairie seed be planted? When the seed does not have any chance to sprout. If the seed sprouts before winter sets in, the seedlings may freeze.
- When should the soil be disked? The soil does not need to be disked. Just put the seed down in the winter snow.
- I purchased my seeds. What do I use to cover the mix? I prefer moist sawdust or hamster bedding. You will have extra expense if you go with vermiculite.
- What would you recommend — a wheelbarrow? Tubs? It depends upon the size of your planting. If it is a small planting, try a pail and tub. If it is a very large planting, a wheelbarrow or lawn-type wagon. Better yet, try to put one-fourth of the seeds to be planted and one-fourth the sawdust into a tub and plant one-fourth of the prairie.
Winter Seeding Your Prairie
It’s pretty simple. 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.
Typically, you would plan to do this before the first snowfall, but it can also be done after there is snow on the ground. But not very deep snow, since that can make it more difficult physically to tramp around and broadcast the seed.
Pick a day to broadcast your native seed just before a snowfall, and preferably a day 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 the seed 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 in the year may not allow enough freeze-thaw cycles to satisfactorily drill the native seed down into the soil for proper germination in the spring.
Purchase your seed from a local native-plant nursery or gather it 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 gets.
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!