Where To Plant Prairie Grasses

Native plants are being used in many applications for many different reasons. Their ability to adapt and survive under harsh, extreme conditions makes them a popular choice for consumers. Most plant species offered by Stock Seed Farms prefer full sun to partial shade in well drained soils with pH levels between 5.5 and 8. Levels outside the pH range will require soil amendments. We must also advise that native plants perform best in full sunlight (6 – 8 hours a day). As sunlight decreases, so does the performance of the plants.

In general, prairie plants are adapted to full sunlight and most soil types. Each will perform differently in different soils or climates (see individual grass descriptions). They usually require six to eight hours of direct sunlight during their growth period. In any case, seedbeds free of weeds and old grass will produce the best stands. We have had very little success planting into old grass stands, even if the grass is dead. Using a no-till drill to open a furrow and place the seed in direct contact with the soil at the correct depth (1/4 – ½ inches) will achieve the most successful stands.

Weeds are the greatest cause of poor native grass plantings. They challenge the small seedlings in two ways. First they take away necessary water and nutrients. Second, they shade and smother the small plants. Mowing or shredding weeds often is very important the first year to keep the weeds from choking or smothering seedlings.

The mower blade should be kept high to let the desired plants continue uninterrupted growth and also keep weeds from going to seed. Once grasses reach the four leaf stage, 2, 4-D can be applied, but only to plantings with grasses only. Do not use this herbicide on wildflowers. Care must be taken to apply labeled rates as small grass seedlings can be burned or set back by over application, especially on warm days (over 75 degrees F).

Prairie grasses are sun loving plants, but a few will tolerate partial shade. We have successfully planted shorter grasses such as Buffalograss, Blue Grama, and Sideoats Grama between Christmas trees, in fruit orchards and vineyards. Because native grasses are very efficient users of water, they do not compete with trees like cool-season grasses. Taller grasses such as Big Bluestem, Indiangrass, and Switchgrass make great windbreaks, snow fences and sound barriers. Any of these grasses can be planted along or blended with each other. Virginia Wildrye and Canada Wildrye are two mid-height, native cool-season grasses that will handle shady conditions quite nicely. Hard Fescue and Chewing’s Fescue are both shorter bunch grasses that also thrive in shady areas. In heavily shaded areas it is best to use our Shady Grass Mixture.