Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Ground Preparation and Warm Season Grasses

This is the fifth article in a series on WILD School Sites, or outdoor classrooms. WILD School Sites are locations that can be used by students, teachers, and the school community as places to learn about wildlife and the environment. The first thing to do when developing a site is to formulate a plan. You can contact your district Wildlife Communication Specialist, who can walk you through the process to help ensure success.

So what type of project should you do?

Remember, no two sites are the same, so each site will consist of different projects. Available resources, such as time, money, space, and labor, will also play a role in what projects are chosen. Last month’s article focused on stepping stones, animal track plots, and yearly maintenance. This month we will look at a few more projects which can be started this time of year.

Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance

As springtime arrives, our thoughts begin to wander toward working in the soil. After developing a working plan for your WILD School site, now is finally the time to dig in, literally, right? Well, almost. Preparing the soil before planting can alleviate a lot of problems later on and reduce maintenance requirements.

The type of preparation really depends on what status the ground is currently in. If you are going to be building a raised bed (which can even be constructed on blacktop), you will have less soil preparation and more construction involved. Have your students calculate the amount of soil needed. Calculate the length, width, and soil depth (remember to account for settling) to determine how much cubic material you will need.

If you are planting into a yard or field, some extra work may be needed, depending on conditions. If you are planting into existing vegetation (grass or weeds), you will want to eliminate the old vegetation so it doesn’t compete with your new plants. This can be achieved mechanically, chemically, or both. Remember; never work the ground when it is wet. Contact your district communications specialist for more guidance on soil preparation. Either way, a soil sample is highly recommended to optimize soil conditions for plant growth.

A Planting We Will Go…

Although it is still a bit early to plant some species, now through the beginning of June is the perfect time to plant prairie grasses, also known as warm season grasses. Warm season grasses are native grasses which were once found throughout the prairie regions of the country, including portions of Ohio. These native species of grasses are more beneficial to wildlife than the non-native cool season grasses commonly found in lawns and along roadsides.

When planting warm season grasses, shallow depth is critical. For most soils, try to plant the seeds to a depth of 1/4” or less. The seeds should barely be covered, and up to 1/3 of the seeds may not even get covered at all. Another mistake beginners often make is planting into soil that is wet. As wet soil dries, it contracts and leaves the seeds exposed to dry out.

Indian grass is a warm season grass
After planting, reducing competition is a critical step. Warm season grasses, as the name implies prefer warmer weather than their cool season counterparts. Because of this, warm season fields can easily become choked by cool season vegetation during the first two years. Depending on species, there are several options for chemical and mechanical control. If weed competition becomes a problem in your field, be sure to contact your district communications specialist for guidance.

A Final Thought

Although most WILD School Sites contain multiple projects that can take years to develop from start to finish, now is the time to begin breaking ground and getting some plantings in. As the weather begins to warm, this is the time of year to take students outside and get started on your site. For more information about these projects or other WILD School Site projects, contact your district’s Wildlife Communications Specialist.