Native Wildflower and Grass Demonstration Plots!
by Josh Shields, forester and wildlife biologist with the Forestry Assistance Program (FAP), Manistee and Mason-Lake Conservation Districts
Currently, one of the most popular conservation practices is the planting of native wildflowers and grasses. For some landowners, the main goal is to provide habitat for pollinators, such as the well-known Monarch butterfly. Other landowners have a more general goal of converting low-quality non-forested habitat dominated by non-native species (e.g., shrubs such as autumn-olive; forbs such as spotted knapweed; and grasses such as smooth brome) to a higher quality habitat dominated by native species. Converting such degraded habitats to native habitat results in increased native biodiversity and floristic quality of the plant community, which provides quality habitat for wildlife native to the region. And for other landowners, the goal is to simply have a visually stunning landscape!
Because of the value and popularity of this conservation practice, we at the Manistee Conservation District (MCD) installed four demonstration plots in 2020. On all four plots, native species were planted by broadcasting seed (using a filler and pressing the seed into the soil with a garden roller), at a ratio of 50% native grasses and 50% native wildflowers, and a rate of no less than 12 pounds of seed per acre. Grass species included big bluestem and little bluestem, and wildflower species included black-eyed susan, common spiderwort, false sunflower, hoary vervain, New England aster, foxglove beard-tongue, partridge-pea, purple coneflower, sand coreopsis, stiff goldenrod, wild-bergamot, wild lupine, and yellow coneflower. Many of these species are part of the dry sand prairie ecosystems that were historically scattered across Northern Michigan. Dry Sand Prairie - Michigan Natural Features Inventory (msu.edu)
Here are the details for each demonstration plot:
- Plot 1 – 20 feet by 50 feet area in the front yard of the MCD office. Site preparation included tilling (shallower than 12 inches) in 2020 and 2021 to control undesirable weeds, cover cropping (crimson clover, oats, and rye) to help suppress weeds, and fertilizer as a soil amendment (based on a soil test). Seed was spread in May of 2022.
- Plot 2 – 15 feet by 15 feet area west of the MCD office building. Site preparation included foliar herbicide applied throughout the summer of 2021 to control undesirable weeds. Seed was spread in November of 2021.
- Plot 3 – 12 feet by 24 feet area in northwest corner of MCD’s 40-acre parcel in Kaleva. Site preparation included tilling in 2020, cover cropping with oats, and some spot treating of weeds with foliar herbicide. Seed was spread in May of 2022.
- Plot 4 – 15 feet by 15 feet area in northwest corner of MCD’s 40-acre parcel in Kaleva. Site preparation included foliar herbicide applied throughout the summer of 2021. Seed was spread in November of 2021.
As of September of 2023, all four plots are looking great and exactly as they should look after only two growing seasons! Our long-term goal is to utilize these plots to showcase different techniques for establishing these ecosystems.