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SERVING LANDOWNERS IN DOUGLAS COUNTY COLORADO FOR OVER 50 YEARS

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Planting Native 
Grass Seed

Native grass seeding is more challenging than introduced grasses, but the rewards of establishing a native stand are worth the effort.  Your successful planting will be very hardy and, if properly grazed, will last a long time.

Properly managing your land can be a real challenge; but it can also be a very rewarding experience.  There is a wealth of information and assistance available to help guide you.  Contact us by e-mail or call 303 688-3042 ext. 100 for further information.

1. How to Plant     4. What to Expect the First Year
2. When to Plant 5. Weed Control
3. Cover Crop Seeding    6. Grazing Management

How To Plant. 

Grasses must be planted in a firm, weed-free seedbed, primarily because success depends upon good soil-to-seed contact.  Loose soil dries out quickly at the surface compared to firm soil, and native grass seed is planted only 1/4 to 1/2 in deep.

Most grasses should be planted with a grass drill, but broadcasting can also be used.  Using a grass drill cuts the amount of seed you need for an area by half, since this method of planting is more efficient.

In most cases, a grass seedling needs little or no fertilizer during establishment.  However, on disturbed sites, such as areas around a new house, water lines, trenching, etc., soil amendments may be required to maintain the vigor of the grasses.  In these areas, soil testing is recommended if grasses are having a difficult time getting established.

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When To Plant

Recommended seeding dates are November 1 to April 30, when the soil is not frozen, but a first frost has already occurred.

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Cover Crop Seeding

Seeding native grasses in a suitable cover crop is almost a must.  A suitable cover crop decreases evaporation to retain soil moisture, and keeps soil temperatures lower because of shading.  It protects young grass seedlings from strong winds, collects snow during winter, and minimizes the weed problem.  The cover crop should be planted in the spring, allowing for a hay cutting in the fall, and leaving 6" to 8" of stubble.  Grass is seeded into this stubble in the fall.  Recommended cover crops are forage sorghum, long-season milo, forage millet, etc.

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What to Expect the First Year

Most growers of native grasses are convinced they have a failure the first year.  Most of the time they actually have a good stand.  Native grasses grow down, not up, during the establishment year.  The top growth normally amounts to a narrow, straight leaf until late summer.  These seedlings can be hard to see, even for the experienced grower.  Be patient.  Do not graze for at least the first growing season.

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Weed Control

Weeds are the greatest cause of poor grass stands because they challenge the small seedlings in two ways:

  • they take away necessary water and nutrients
  • they shade and smother the young plants

Weeds need to be controlled, chemically or with tillage, prior to seeding.  We can help you with specific recommendations.  Mowing or shredding weeds the first year is important to prevent the seedlings being choked or smothered.  All mowing operations should be done to a six-inch height.

After the grass plants are established and have adequate size and leaf growth, a light chemical may be applied, if needed.  Check with us for recommendations.  When applying chemicals, read the directions or contact the chemical representative.

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Grazing Management

All desired grasses decrease in numbers with continuous grazing, overgrazing, or abuse.  Undesirable plants will invade immediately.

Each grass plant has its growth and grazing characteristics.  Proper management practices should be used to maximize the use of each grass.  Most range plants provide quality forage and are eaten by some class of livestock during the year.  In an overgrazed pasture, 45 to 70 percent of the rainfall is lost to runoff.  In a properly grazed pasture, only 10 percent or less is lost to runoff.

Proper grazing use allows the land to be grazed at an intensity that maintains enough cover to protect the soil, while maintaining or improving the quantity and quality of the desired vegetation.

A rule of thumb for proper grazing use is to "take half and leave half" of the available forage during the growing season.  Livestock can graze a plant down to half it's weight, which is generally about two-thirds of the mature height, without detrimental effects to the plant.

A growing season is defined as April 1 to October 15.

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