Restoration of Native Grasses
Restoring and managing native grasses can contribute significantly to forage production for livestock grazing and habitat for a wide variety of wildlife species. Forbs or broadleaf herbaceous plants represent a major component of native grasslands or prairies. Annual and perennial species are found in native grasslands and prairies and comprise the majority of species present. Species diversity is a key component to managing native grasslands. Without a good diversity of plant species, the site can have less of a value for livestock grazing and wildlife forage.
Site preparation is perhaps the most important element to be addressed before planting native grasses. Each site will be different and an evaluation should be due to determine what type of vegetation and soils exists and what steps will be necessary to set back plant succession so that planted species can germinate and grow. In most settings, herbicide will be needed to kill existing competing vegetation such as 'improved' grasses (ie.Bermuda and Bahia). Herbicide applications are best conducted in late spring or early summer when grasses are very actively growing.
After killing the competition, light discing or burning may be required to remove rank vegetation so that seeds may be drilled into the soil. There are 2 different periods for seeding native grasses and both have there advantages and disadvantages. The first method is winter planting of seed after competition has been killed the previous summer. Winter plantings may help insure that there is adequate moisture in the soil for seeds to germinate in the spring. However, remember that moisture is not the only factor. Day length and soil temperature are major factors. A disadvantage to this method is that winter forbs and grasses and early spring vegetation may outcompete the native seeds. The second method is to spray herbicide in late spring (May) and then about 2 weeks later plant the native seed. This factor reduces late winter, early spring competition but it also leaves you very vulnerable to low moisture if seasonal rains do not occur in June.
Ideal mixes for the Post Oak Savannah often include little bluestem, big bluestem, yellow Indian grass, Eastern gama grass, side oats, and switch grass. Some of these grasses vary between dry uplands and moist bottomlands so consult with professionals before deciding on a mix. Common forbes may include Englemann daisy, maximillian sunflower, and many more. Forbes are important to add to the mix.
Once native grasses have been established several tools can be used to maintain the grassland. Control burning, mowing, grazing, and discing can be used for site management. Fire is a natural event for grasslands and prairies and they benefit from its occurrence by stimulating growth of dormant forb seed, promote growth of above ground vegetation, improve soil fertility, and help control the invasion of undesirable woody plant species found in the area. Fire releases nutrients back into the soil and reduces shading of new grass and forb seedlings. All of these management tools can be used on a 3-4 year rotation to keep plant succession at a desirable stage and to promote growth for a healthy native grass stand. When using a tool such as fire, mowing, and disking, the area should be divided it strips of a checker board design depending on the size of the area. By using the method, you can make sure the area always has native grasses at different stages of succession.
If you would like to contact your local biologist, see our website at; http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/ wildlifebiologist.