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NATIVE GRASS AND FORBS FOR WILDLIFE

Why plant native grasses and forbs for Wildlife? Example Native Grass Mixes
Diversity is Key Example Forb Mixes
Field Size, Shape, and PlacementMaintenance
Seeding Rates

If wildlife habitat is your primary purpose for planting native grasses and you have no interest in haying or grazing, this section will explain their benefits for wildlife. This section will provide you with the needed information in order to incorporate native grasses into your wildlife habitat plan for your property.

Why plant native grasses and forbs for Wildlife?

Native grasses once covered large portions of Tennessee as native prairies, barrens, glades, or savannas. From a wildlife standpoint native grasses provide better habitat than fescue, orchardgrass, Kentucky bluegrass, and timothy currently found on many farms today. Native grasses are bunch grasses which provide a mix of bare ground and upright structure. Non-native cool-season grasses often form a dense monoculture sod, are short, and easily knocked down by wind, snow, or ice leaving no cover for wildlife.

Native grasses provide bare ground for movement of quail and turkey chicks and for foraging. They provide nesting cover during the spring and escape and thermal cover during the summer and winter. It provides nesting cover for a number of songbirds as well as for rabbits, mice and voles. Short grass species such as sideoats grama, Virginia wild rye, broomsedge, composite dropseed, and little bluestem provide ideal cover for quail and turkey. These grasses do not become as thick as the tall native grass species when planted in a diverse mix of native grasses and forbs. Short grass species represent pioneer species in old field succession. These species set the stage for invasion for the climax species such as Indiangrass, big bluestem, switchgrass, and eastern gamagrass. A mix of tall and short grass can also provide bedding, loafing, escape, and fawning cover for deer.
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Diversity is Key

A mix containing short and tall grasses allows for diversity in the structure of the field for wildlife habitat. Mixes that have 3 or more species of native grass are better able to adapt to variations in soil and moisture. Planting native forbs with the native grasses is better for providing the habitat needed by quail and rabbits throughout the year. Planting a mix of grasses with native forbs not only provides cover, but it also provides a source of food which includes insects and seeds associated with forbs. If the right forbs are used in the planting with the native grasses they will compete with the native grasses reducing keeping one species from taking over. This competition will reduce native grass vigor and help to improve the habitat structure of the field.

Quail and other songbirds prefer native forb seeds during winter. Gold Finches relish seeds from purple coneflower, black-eyed Susans, grey-headed coneflower, Maximillian sunflower, downy sunflower, false sunflowers, rigid goldenrod and asters . Quail and sparrows feed heavily on partridge pea, beggars tick, tick trefoils, etc.

During the summer these same forbs and wildflowers play host to numerous insects including ants, butterflies, flies, honey bees, sawflies, leaf hoppers, etc. that quail, turkey, and songbirds feed on and feed to their young. Larvae of a number of insects feed on the leaves of grasses and forbs. These caterpillars and larvae are then fed on by quail, turkey, and songbirds.

Many native forbs such as purple coneflower, Illinois bundleflower, gray-headed coneflower, purple prairie clover are also fed on by deer and rabbits during the summer months providing them with a good source of protein and other nutrients needed for proper growth and development .
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Field Size, Shape, and Placement

Native grasses and forbs alone will not necessarily improve your property for wildlife. If you plan on using native grasses on your property you need to consider 3 important factors when selecting where to plant native grasses. These include field size, shape, and placement. A small 1 to 5 acre field of native grasses will probably provide very little benefit for most wildlife species. Although it might provide some escape cover it does not meet the daily and seasonal needs of most wildlife species other then maybe a vole or field mouse. It will get some usage by deer, turkey, and songbirds like field sparrows, Many species will avoid it and those that do use it may have lower survival due to increase predation. It is much easier for a hawk, fox, weasel, or other predator to find prey in a small 1 to 5 acre field then it is in a larger field. A small field will also require more maintenance because of the increased potential of tree invasion due to its small size.

Larger fields such 40 to 100 acres in size can provide habitat for a number of wildlife species including quail, songbirds, deer, and turkey. A properly planted and maintained 40 acre field of native grasses with forbs and shrubs can provide habitat for 1 cover of quail or about 12 individuals for an entire year. Many songbirds like grasshopper sparrows and Henslow's sparrow will avoid fields less than 30 acres in size. These species have been found to be edge sensitive which means they avoid areas to close to forested edges.

Native grasses planted for wildlife should be planted in blocks. Linear plantings will be used by wildlife, but there narrow size makes them much easier for predators to target prey in. Blocks of native grasses and forbs are easier to maintain and reduce the influence of the edges of the field may have on wildlife. Blocks are often easier to maintain because management techniques such as prescribed fire and strip disking can more easily be done on block areas then on linear areas. Block habitat will also reduce encroachment of woody plants and invasive species like fescue and sericea lespedeza that may be growing along field edges.

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Seeding rates

Seeding rates of native grasses for wildlife should be kept as low as possible. Mixes containing from 3 lbs to 5lbs pure live seed per acre are ideal for wildlife. In the past seeding rates of 8 to 12 lbs pure live seed have been recommended which should not be used unless the seed is hand collected. Seeding rates over 5 lbs for wildlife creates a grass that is too thick for quail, rabbits, and songbirds and can even be difficult for deer and turkey to use. Native grass should be mixed with a minimum of 20% forbs. Ideally the range of forbs should be from 50% to 60% of the mix. Forbs provide needed structure, cover, and food needed by wildlife. Without forbs in the mix the value for wildlife is limited. You should consider planting as much forb seed as you can afford. Forbs seeds will increase the cost of your planting because of the high cost of producing and harvesting many of the seeds.

A conservation mix of 4 to 6 species of forbs at a rate of 1 to 2 lbs/acre of native forbs will provide better habitat than not providing any at all. A diverse mix of 10 to 15 species of forbs at a rate of 2 to 3 lbs/acre will provide better habitat and more potential food for wildlife. If you are really interested in providing the most food and habitat for wildlife and restoring rare glade/prairie/savanna habitat consider a restoration mix of 20 or more species of forbs and legumes at a rate of 3 to 4 lbs/acre.

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Examples of Grass Mixes

Short Mixes
Good for early successional wildlife such as quail, songbirds, and rabbits.

4lbs/acre pure live seed

Short mixes do best on upland sites with soil moisture levels that range from moist to dry.

Should have 1 to 4 pounds of native forbs added to mix


Mix 1

sideoats grama

Bouteloua cuirtipendula

1.0 lbs/acre

Virginia wild rye

Elymus virginicus

1.0 lbs/acre

little bluestem

Schizachyrium scoparius

1.75 lbs/acre

Indiangrass

Sorghastrum nutans

0.25lbs/acre


Mix 2

sideoats grama

Bouteloua cuirtipendula

1.0 lbs/acre

Virginia wild rye

Elymus virginicus

1.0 lbs/acre

little bluestem

Schizachyrium scoparius

1.75 lbs/acre

tall dropseed

Sporobolus compositus

0.25 lbs/acre



Mix 3

sideoats grama

Bouteloua cuirtipendula

1.25lbs/acre

Indiangrass

Sorghastrum nutans

0.25 lbs/acre

little bluestem

Schizachyrium scoparius

2.0lbs/acre

tall dropseed

Sporobolus compositus

0.5lbs/acre



Mixes with 3.0 lbs/acre of native grass and 2 to 4 pounds of native forbsadded to mix.

Short mixes do best on upland sites with soil moisture levels that range from moist to dry.


Mix 1

sideoats grama

Bouteloua cuirtipendula

1.0 lbs/acre

Virginia wild rye

Elymus virginicus

0.5 lbs/acre

little bluestem

Schizachyrium scoparius

1.5 lbs/acre


Mix 2

sideoats grama

Bouteloua cuirtipendula

1.0 lbs/acre

Virginia wild rye

Elymus virginicus

0.5 lbs/acre

little bluestem

Schizachyrium scoparius

1.25 lbs/acre

Indiangrass

Sorghastrum nutans

0.25 lbs/acre


Mix 3

sideoats grama

Bouteloua cuirtipendula

1.0 lbs/acre

Virginia wild rye

Elymus virginicus

0.5 lbs/acre

little bluestem

Schizachyrium scoparius

1.25 lbs/acre

tall dropseed

Sporobolus compositus

0.25 lbs/acre


Tall Mixes
Better for deer and turkey, but will be utilized by early succeional wildlife such as songbirds, rabbit, and quail.

Rate of 4lbs/acre of native grasses and 1 to 4 lbs of native forbs added.

Tall mixes may also be necessary in bottomlands where many short grass species are not as easily able to compete with weeds. A diversity of diversity of tall and short grasses to is necessary in order to maintain proper habitat structure.


Mix 1

little bluestem

Schizachyrium scoparius

1.5 lbs/acre

sideoats grama

Bouteloua cuirtipendula

1.0 lbs/acre

big bluestem

Andropogon gerardii

0.5 lbs/acre

tall dropseed

Sporobolus compositus

0.5 lbs/acre

Indiangrass

Sorghastrum nutans

0.5 lbs/acre


Mix 2

little bluestem

Schizachyrium scoparius

1.5 lbs/acre

Virginia wild rye

Elymus virginicus

1.0 lbs/acre

big bluestem

Andropogon gerardii

0.5 lbs/acre

switchgrass

Panicum virgatum

0.5 lbs/acre

Indiangrass

Sorghastrum nutans

0.5 lbs/acre


Mix 3 Wet Areas

(areas with a clay pan)

Virginia wild rye

Elymus virginicus

1.75 lbs/acre

prairie cordgrass

Spartina pectinata

0.5 lbs/acre

switchgrass

Panicum virgatum

0.5 lbs/acre

Indiangrass

Sorghastrum nutans

0.25 lbs/acre

eastern gamagrass

Tripsacum dactyloides

1.0 lbs/acre


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Examples of forb mixes (wildflowers)

Mixes with 1 lb/acre of native forbs and a minimum of 4 species. Native grasses should be seeded at 3 to 4 PLS/acre.


Conservation Mix 1

(imazapic resistant)

partridge pea

Cassia fasciculata

6.0 oz/acre

Illinois bundleflower

Desmathus illinoensis

2.0 oz/acre

false sunflower

Heliopsis helianthoides

4.0 oz/acre

purple coneflower

Echinacea purpurea

4.0 oz/acre


Conservation Mix 2

(imazapic resistant)

partridge pea

Cassia fasciculata

7.0 oz/acre

Illinois bundleflower

Desmathus illinoensis

2.0 oz/acre

blackeyed Susan

Rudbeckia hirta

0.5 oz/acre

purple coneflower

Echinacea purpurea

6.5 oz/acre


Conservation Mix 3

(imazapic resistant)

partridge pea

Cassia fasciculata

4.0 oz/acre

lanceleaf coreopsis

Coreopsis lanceolata

2.0 oz/acre

Illinois bundleflower

Desmanthus illinoensis

3.0 oz/acre

purple coneflower

Echinacea purpurea

2.0 oz/acre

false sunflower

Helopsis helianthoides

2.0 oz/acre

grey-head coneflower

Ratibida pinnata

2.0 oz/acre

roundheaded bushclover

Lespedeza capitata

1.0 oz/acre


Conservation Mix 4

(imazapic resistant)

partridge pea

Cassia fasciculata

4.0 oz/acre

lanceleaf coreopsis

Coreopsis lanceolata

2.0 oz/acre

Illinois bundleflower

Desmanthus illinoensis

3.0 oz/acre

purple coneflower

Echinacea purpurea

3.0 oz/acre

grey-head coneflower

Ratibida pinnata

2.0 oz/acre

rigid goldenrod

Solidago rigida

1.0 oz/acre

roundheaded bushclover

Lespedeza capitata

1.0 oz/acre


Mixes with 2 lb/acre native forbs and a minimum of 6 species. Native grasses should be seeded at 3 to 4 PLS/acre.

Conservation Mix 3

(imazapic resistant)

partridge pea

Cassia fasciculata

6.0 oz/acre

lanceleaf coreopsis

Coreopsis lanceolata

5.0 oz/acre

Illinois bundleflower

Desmanthus illinoensis

3.0 oz/acre

purple coneflower

Echinacea purpurea

12.0 oz/acre

false sunflower

Helopsis helianthoides

6.0 oz/acre

grey-head coneflower

Ratibida pinnata

3.0 oz/acre


Conservation Mix 4

(imazapic resistant)

partridge pea

Cassia fasciculata

6.0 oz/acre

Illinois bundleflower

Desmanthus illinoensis

2.0 oz/acre

purple coneflower

Echinacea purpurea

14.0 oz/acre

false sunflower

Helopsis helianthoides

4.0 oz/acre

grey-head coneflower

Ratibida pinnata

4.0 oz/acre

blackeyed Susan

Rudbeckia hirta

2.0 oz/acre



Diverse Mix 1

(imazapic resistant)

partridge pea

Cassia fasciculata

6 oz/acre

lanceleaf coreopsis

Coreopsis lanceolata

3 oz/acre

purple prairie clover

Dalea purpureum

3 oz/acre

Illinois bundleflower

Desmanthus illinoensis

3 oz/acre

purple coneflower

Echinacea purpurea

8 oz/acre

false sunflower

Heliopsis helianthoides

4 oz/acre

roundhead bush clover

Lespedeza capitata

2 oz/acre

greyheaded coneflower

Ratibida pinnata

4 oz/acre

blackeyed Susan

Rudbeckia hirta

1 oz/acre

rigid goldenrod

Solidago rigida

2 oz/acre


Diverse Mix 2

(not imazapic resistant)


partridge pea

Cassia fasciculata

4 oz/acre

lanceleaf coreopsis

Coreopsis lanceolata

5 oz/acre

purple prairie clover

Dalea purpureum

2 oz/acre

Illinois bundleflower

Desmanthus illinoensis

2 oz/acre

purple coneflower

Echinacea purpurea

7 oz/acre

Maximilian sunflower

Helianthus maximiliani

2 oz/acre

false sunflower

Helopsis helianthoides

3 oz/acre

greyheaded coneflower

Ratibida pinnata

4 oz/acre

blackeyed Susan

Rudbeckia hirta

2 oz/acre

rigid goldenrod

Solidago rigida

5 oz/acre



Diverse Mix 3

(not imazapic resistant)


butterfly milkweed

Asclepias tuberosa

1 oz/acre

smooth aster

Aster laevis

1 oz/acre

partridge pea

Cassia fasciculate

4 oz/acre

lanceleaf coreopsis

Coreopsis lanceolata

4 oz/acre

Illinois bundlflower

Desmanthus illinoensis

2 oz/acre

purple coneflower

Echinacea purpurea

10 oz/acre

false sunflower

Helopsis helianthoides

5 oz/acre

greyheaded coneflower

Ratibida pinnata

5 oz/acre

black-eyed Susan

Rudbeckia hirta

2 oz/acre

rigid goldenrod

Solidago rigida

2 oz/acre


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Maintenance



  What to do when

Use the planning calendar below for tips on enhancing your land throughout the year. Click any of the selections below for more details.






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