The Missouri Prairie Foundation strives to use the best and most innovative management techniques on our properties and to help private landowners do the same. Send your prairie management questions to MPF’s Prairie Operations manager Richard Datema via our Contact Page. Below is some advice from Richard on some common prairie restoration and management tasks.
Native Warm-Season Grass News with Steve Clubine, Vol. 30 #1, Spring 2011 (PDF); Originally published in Missouri Prairie Journal
Native Prairie Hay Meadows–A Landowner’s Management Guide
The Kansas Biological Survey at the University of Kansas published a 32-page guide that explores hay meadow ecology; the economic and cultural importance of hay meadows; management advice for maintaining and restoring hay meadows; and land conservation options for interested landowners. The booklet features full color photography of prairie landscapes. While the guide was written with Kansas prairie landowners in mind, Missouri prairie landowners may find the guide useful as well.
The most important thing to remember when cutting trees is that you must treat the cut stumps with some sort of herbicide. Untreated stumps tend to multiply, and it is well worth your time to treat all the stumps as you go. At the end of a long day, you’ll never find them all. I use undiluted Tordon RTU, which is Picloram and 2,4-D, or a Crossbow and diesel mix (5% Crossbow and 95% diesel). Crossbow is triclopyr plus 2,4-D.
If using Tordon RTU, which stands for Ready to Use, apply the herbicide directly to the cambium layer of the cut stump. The cambium is the ring just inside the bark. I sometimes use a wiping action to treat stumps this way, with the Tordon RTU in an applicator bottle with a permeable top. If using the Crossbow and diesel mix, spray the top of the stump and down the sides to the ground. Small trees and brush of 2” diameter or less can be killed without cutting via a process called basal bark treatment. Spray the stem all the way around, about 24” high. As always, follow all herbicide label instructions for safety and protection of your resources. For instance, neither Tordon RTU nor the Crossbow mix should be used around water, as 2,4-D has been shown to greatly harm desirable aquatic species.
WINTER SEEDING OF NATIVE GRASSES AND FORBS
If you have sprayed your tall fescue or other unwanted exotic species to prepare your seed bed by the winter, we recommend broadcast planting your native prairie grasses and forb seed in December or the first week of January. A common mistake in native plantings is seeding your expensive prairie species too deep, so let Mother Nature do most of the work. You can use a harrow to rough up the surface and a culti-packer after the seed has been broadcast to insure seed to soil contact. The freezing and thawing action over the winter should work the seed to the proper depth.
Sericea Lespedeza – A Cost Effective Control (PDF 840KB)
SUMMER SERICEA LESPEDEZA CONTROL METHODS
Between June and August each year, landowners should spot spray Sericea lespedeza with triclopyr-based herbicide, known by the brand name Remedy or PastureGard. Mix one fluid ounce per gallon of water. It also helps to put in one fluid ounce of non-ionic surfactant, such as Blazon Blue, which includes an agriculturally-approved marking dye. By placing a small amount of color dye in a hand pump sprayer or backpack sprayer, it is easy to tell where you have sprayed. It is very important to get all of your sericea treated before it produces seed in the late summer and early fall. If possible, get all your sericea spraying done by the end of July because sericea is a prolific seed producer. Heavy infestations have been found to produce more than 500 pounds of seed per acre, with approximately 350,000 seeds per pound! Fortunately the seeds of sericea lespedeza do not germinate easily, however seeds have been known to persist in the soil for approximately 30 years. Ironically, good prairie management techniques, such as disturbing the soil with limited grazing or conducting prescribed fires are what activates sericea seed and can lead to sudden outbreaks of the invader. By consistently spot spraying sericea, MPF land managers have noticed a gradual decline of the plant in most areas. Plants are killed at a rate above 90 percent each season. In some places, the sericea is nearly gone, but annual inspections are essential due to the incredible seed producing ability of only a few plants. Unfortunately, many roadside patches or other areas that are neglected by absentee landowners produce a constant seed source that can blow to other areas and continue the spread of sericea. When buying seed harvested by a combine, be sure to ask about the potential for sericea in the mix. If you have a large sericea infestation, it may be better to broadcast spray the entire area with 1.0 to 1.5 pints per acre of Remedy.
Q – Richard, what is the best method for converting a few acres of fescue to a nice, wildlife friendly mix of grasses and forbs? How long should it take to get it right? About how much should it cost per acre?
A - The most important prep work for a prairie planting is getting rid of tall fescue. If possible spray with Glyphosate in the spring and fall for two years running. Burning after the first spraying whether spring or fall after the fescue is brown is a good idea. This gets light to the ground so any fescue seeds in the soil will germinate and can be sprayed. Plant your native seed in December or January. If possible, before planting, roughen up the soil surface with a flexible harrrow. Local MFA’s can do the spraying and tell you how much it will cost. Generally, Glyphosate is cheap and effective on fescue. Seed costs can vary greatly, depending on how many different native species you want in your mix. MPF can provide contact information for seed sources closest to your area, and we recommend using seed that is as locally specific as possible.
Q – Richard, I’m working on a savanna restoration in southwest Missouri, and I’d like to know which trees to keep? For instance, I ran across 3 very large persimmon while cutting, and I can’t bear to take them down. Has there ever been a time when you ran across something too good to remove?
A - If you like the persimmon trees, then I would leave them. On MPF Prairies I usually cut all the trees down to open the prairies for grassland birds. This also gets rid of the seed sources and makes long term brush/tree management less time consuming and less expensive. There are tree species that I cut down that probably should be left in savanna restorations. Big bur oaks and white oaks and a few others like hickory are good savanna species. I tend to have a no brush/tree tolerance on the prairies. I do this because it makes brush and tree management much easier and cheaper in the long term. If you get rid of the trees/brush in fence rows, drainage draws and open areas, it eliminates your seed sources.