Plan ahead for successful reseeding of perennial grasses

If you live in northern Larimer County, especially if you were affected by wildfire, you may be considering seeding perennial grasses.

Fall is the time to plant, but before rushing to reseed, assess your land to determine if native grasses are re-sprouting from underground roots or from the soil seed bank. Many grass species are rhizomatous and their growing points may have been protected by being deep under the soil surface and able to regenerate more quickly than from broadcast seed. In addition, you know that the existing grasses are adapted to your region, while seed purchased may not be as locally adapted.

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In areas where the fire was very severe, it will be beneficial to reseed. Although the success rate — especially on steep or rocky terrain — may be marginal. But every plant that successfully establishes will reseed and add to the necessary ground cover.

Seeding native or introduced perennial grasses is very different from seeding a grain crop or planting a garden. Most native grass is planted on unirrigated dry-land, so timing, natural precipitation — and a certain amount of luck — will influence the success of reseeding.

Consider how these grasses evolved and you will understand why dormant season seeding — Nov. 1 through April 30 — is used to establish perennial grasses. By fall the grass seed heads have matured, and can be knocked to the ground by passing wildlife or livestock, by heavy wind and even wind-driven snow later in the season. One way or another, the seeds find their way to the ground, where they may get trampled and ground into the soil by migrating animals, or perhaps covered with a thin layer of soil through the action of wind or water.

Most perennial grass seed is happiest planted 1/4- to 1/2-inch deep. For this reason, a special no-till drill is often used for seeding perennial grasses. Perennial grass seed is not designed to be planted in to a “prepared” seed bed as is typical for a grain crop, but shelter from wind and sun provided by existing vegetation helps encourage germination. In mountain areas, straw mulch provides similar protection and helps collect and hold moisture from winter snowfall and prevents tender seedlings from desiccation.

Grass seedlings are sensitive to herbicide, so plan to avoid herbicide on newly seeded areas for the first year. Your primary method of weed control in newly seeded areas is mowing or hand pulling. Some herbicides remain active in the soil for months after application, and could affect the germination of grass seedlings.

Many native grass species are found in northern Larimer County: western wheat, blue grama, sideoats grama, needleandthread grass, buffalo grass, slender wheatgrass, sand dropseed, green needlegrass and in some locations big and little bluestem. There are also many varieties of introduced perennial grasses that do very well along the Front Range. Local seed dealers offer prepared seed mixes suited for different locations and purposes.

For recommended seed mixes, especially if reseeding after wildfire, contact the Natural Resources Conservation Service Fort Collins office at 2150 Centre Ave., Building A, Suite-116, 970 295-5655.

The Fort Collins Conservation District and the Big Thompson Conservation District have made several hand-held broadcast seeders available for loan through the Larimer County Weed District. If you live on flat, open ground, The Fort Collins Conservation District has a small no-till drill that is ideal for reseeding projects on small acreages. The Weed District has a Great Plains no-till drill that is ideal for larger acreages. Contact the Larimer County Weed District for information on these planting methods.

For more information on reseeding, weeds, weed identification, pasture management, herbicide recommendations, and free site visits please contact the weed district at 970-498-5768.