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Old 06-19-2012, 05:50 PM   #1
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Default Planning an Eastern Meadow

We began discussing this topic in another thread, but, instead of highjacking that one, I'd love further discussion of the topic here.

Although leaving my field unmowed (aside from paths) and adding some native wildflowers, it is still predominantly European grasses and weeds. I'd love to change that.

Adding potted wildflowers or propagating what I have by either division or sowing their collected seeds in pots and planting them out there when they could (hopefully) fend for themselves has worked for me for now...but it is hardly ideal. I've used my method of "remove, replace, edit" where I pull out the mugwort on the hillside, put in some goldenrod or other tough native, and go back throughout the season (and subsequent years) editing out the invasives and non-natives that I have growing amongst my new additions. Fine for that section but unrealistic for the field that I'd like to tranform into an Eastern meadow (I'm unsure if calling it a prairie in NE PA sounds right).

So far, I have begun to smother what used to be a small patch of crownvetch that went from the size of a coffee table to larger than my living room! The woodchips are doing their job for the most part, but I still have more of it to contain.

Since I began smothering it, I have thought of planting a custom made seed mix I plan to order from a Pennsylvanian seed company that has seeds whose genetic origin is from PA. I didn't expect to attempt this for a couple of years, but since I've already begun the process of removing the vegetation in this one section...and the fact that it takes about 3 years to establish, I'm thinking I should give it a try.

Suggestions would be welcomed.

Here is what I'm working with:
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Old 06-19-2012, 08:45 PM   #2
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I would get your seed mix, being sure to keep track of what is in it. Make a few openings in the wood chips in late fall/early winter, and sow the seeds. Then the next season just keep after anything that wasn't in your mix and you don't want. Each year the patches you sowed will spread out over the remaining wood chip area as the chips decay.

I started a couple of small patches of savannah mix in old garden beds, and they really took off the second year. So thick, I found it difficult to find the occasional unwanted invader.
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Old 06-19-2012, 09:40 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by benj1 View Post
I would get your seed mix, being sure to keep track of what is in it. Make a few openings in the wood chips in late fall/early winter, and sow the seeds. Then the next season just keep after anything that wasn't in your mix and you don't want. Each year the patches you sowed will spread out over the remaining wood chip area as the chips decay.

I started a couple of small patches of savannah mix in old garden beds, and they really took off the second year. So thick, I found it difficult to find the occasional unwanted invader.
Hmm....interesting take on things, benj. It is good to see you posting again, BTW.

I hadn't thought about planting directly into the mulch (although I am doing that in another section with transplants...and have sprinkled some seeds there, too). I would have thought I had to rake away the mulch to get the seeds in contact with the soil--AND, I guess I hoped to get more use out of the mulch by spreading it over the surrounding area to extend the section that much more for subsequent seedings.

I like the idea of using the mulch as a planting medium. It would help keep out the weeds...but does that mean I have to actually PURCHASE woodchip mulch to extend my area? (If anyone recalls, I got my first batch from the road crew and the rest from the tree we had taken down.)
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Old 06-19-2012, 09:46 PM   #4
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Here is the other area of mulch that I mentioned above:
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Old 06-19-2012, 09:53 PM   #5
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My hope is that, after the first planting matures, I'll be able to collect seeds from them to do future sections.

Perhaps it make more sense for me to plant a section each year from purchased seed until my first planting is mature enough for me to get my seed from there.

I love having this forum as a sounding board. It really helps me think things through...getting more feedback from others with experience will be very helpful--steer me away from mistakes and such.

benj1, hearing that your second year looked good is very encouraging. I thought it would take three years for that. I like the idea of including native annuals to provide something until other things mature.
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Old 06-20-2012, 07:55 AM   #6
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How about burning to clear vegetation, then sowing? The non-natives don't like fire much.
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Old 06-20-2012, 08:34 AM   #7
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dap - I think your instinct is correct on not sowing directly into the mulch. You are going to want good contact with the soil. In your case you will need to remove all the mulch (and use it elsewhere as you were planning) and check to see what, if anything is still growing there. I can't remember when you laid the mulch down, has it been at least a year? If so you'll probably be successful with the fibrous rooted weeds and grasses but the tap rooted weeds will have to be dug or sprayed. The better your site preparation the better and less frustrating the results will be.

There are two things you can try. One is to till and smooth the bare soil, hand broadcast the seed, then tamp down with a roller. A nurse crop like annual rye or oats will help keep out competing weeds. If you use a nurse crop you should get the seed down in early September.

The other is to lay down newspapers and cover them with a 4-6 inch layer of sand or sand/compost and sow the seed directly into the sand. This is the method Pat Armstrong (see bio below) uses. The roots will grow through the paper easily. I found this information from Gardening With Prairie Plants by Sally Wasowski. This method seems like it would work well for a small scale sowing. Once the plants are large enough for the roots to penetrate the paper they take advantage of your native soil. It sort of makes sense to get the plants off to a quick start and minimize weeds the first season. You also eliminate the need for a nurse crop. Again fall planting is recommended for seed that needs cold stratification.

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Old 06-20-2012, 03:09 PM   #8
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How about burning to clear vegetation, then sowing? The non-natives don't like fire much.
I'd love to try burning, but not sure how well it would go over with the township. And I'd hate for it to get out of control and lose things I wanna keep.
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Old 06-20-2012, 03:11 PM   #9
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Thanks, linrose. I'll look into the options you suggest...I actually like the cover crop idea but I'm keeping an open mind.

I put the mulch down around September of last year, but only recently began to spread it out more to the surrounding areas.
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Old 06-20-2012, 03:25 PM   #10
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Call the local fire department and see if it's OK to burn. If it is they may even be able to send over help, if not be sure to alert them to when you plan on burning. Make sure you have a hose that reaches the area and perhaps even make a fire break (clear the vegetation and dig out a buffer all around the burn area). We did a small controlled burn here which worked out OK. We were careful to choose a time after plentiful rainfall so the soil was pretty saturated and the wind was nil. It also helps to cut tall growth so the flames don't get too high. We had a neighbor in Vermont that was burning a field that got out of control and several fire pumpers had to come and save the woods on the edge from burning up, not to mention the neighbors house! I think he might have had to pay the town back for the inconvenience! If you are careful and the area is small and you have hoses at the ready, and the town agrees, burning might be OK.

You will probably not want to burn near that tree in the second area, perhaps you can just scalp the grass and go from there. Also it looks like it's on a slope so you will need some straw mulch to keep the seeds in place.

I have a healthy respect for fire, just like flooding it can get out of control in an instant!
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