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Type of project: Restoration of about 10 acres along the Canadian River in Canadian County
The land was nearly solid Johnson Grass at the time.
Soil type: Sandy riverbottom
Soil pH: 7.9 – a little high. OSU Lab said the preference range for native grasses is 4.5 – 7.0.
Tools: Tractor, brush hog, tree planter rented from OK Forestry Department, native seed drill rented from local Conservation District
Planted in 2009: Trees only.
Black Walnut, Osage Orange, Sand Plum, American Plum, Persimmon, Native Pecan, Shumard Oak, Bur Oak, Red Mulberry, Hackberry, Roughleaf Dogwood, Black Locust (for erosion control along river)
Planted in 2010:
Trees – Hackberry, Sand Plum, Black Walnut, Black Locust, Persimmon, Native Pecan.
Grasses – Big Bluestem, Little Bluestem, Indian Grass, Switchgrass, Sideoats Grama, Blue Grama,
Forbs – Illinois Bundleflower, Leadplant, Maximillian Sunflower, Gayfeather
Tree supplier: Oklahoma Forestry Services http://www.forestry.ok.gov
Grass seed arranged through local Conservation District
In 2009, I brush-hogged the 10 acres of Johnson Grass. I purchased bare-root seedlings from the Forestry Department and rented their tractor-pulled tree planter to plant them. The tree planter requires two people; one to drive the tractor and one to sit on the tree planter and stick seedlings in the furrow created by the tree planter blade. You can knock out an amazing amount of trees using this machine, and for large projects it is invaluable.
In 2010, I replanted most of the trees as the drought killed most of the first year’s trees. I also got the idea to plant native grass in the spaces between the tree rows. I did that using a tractor-pulled native seed drill rented from the Conservation District. They delivered it, set it up, and showed me how to use it. It also made short work of a lot of area.
For the next two years, almost nothing (good) happened. The Johnson Grass returned and buried all my trees so I was unable to even find them. I had been warned by the Conservation District and NRCS advisor that native grass seeds don’t come up immediately. They take their time and wait for the right conditions to emerge. In the meantime, the Johnson Grass took over again, and I was at a loss. I brush-hogged the whole thing again in spring of 2012 or 2013. Because of that, or because of favorable moisture, or because the seeds just thought the time was right, that year I got patches of native grasses interspersed in the Johnson Grass. I started a mowing regime where I would mow the areas of Johnson Grass and leave the native grass areas. This was somewhat subjective, since both were mixed in with each other, but I would go by the relative amounts of each to determine a patch’s fate. After doing this for two years, the patches of native grasses definitely seemed to “firm up” and the Johnson Grass in those patches seemed to be less vigorous. There was an article in the Native Plant Record about exclusion of Johnson Grass by native grasses, and it seemed to be the case here. The problem is that there are still some large areas of nothing but Johnson Grass, so this year I intend mow those areas again, and use herbicide (Glyphosate) and a wiping tool to selectively apply it to the young Johnson Grass plants as they reach about 12-24″ high. I may reseed with native grass seeds, but my hope is there will be enough from the native patches to do that.
What worked: Getting advice! The best thing you can do is to get a soil test (OSU extension), then take the results to the NRCS and local Conservation District. They are invaluable. If you want to plant trees, the Forestry Service will send a forester out to look over your land and recommend appropriate species. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (formerly the Soil Conservation Service) will make a “seed prescription” for your project, and will advise on any cost-sharing programs, seed availability, and equipment rental. I’m not a farmer, and they helped with basic planting advice, etc.
What failed (miserably!): My tree planting was a total bust. The Johnson Grass hid the small trees so well I was unable to find many. Also, most of the seedlings would need water, and we had long hot summers that burned them all up (except Osage Orange – that is one tough tree). I tried to take a tank out to water the seedlings occasionally, but it wasn’t enough to offset the drought. Another issue was stickers! The native seed drill is designed to just barely scratch the surface – you don’t want to plant too deep. I probably disturbed the sandy soil a little too much when drilling, and the stickers are miserable there. It has gotten better as the taller grasses begin to take over, but there are still patches of heavy stickers that I avoid like the plague.
If I were to do it all over again: Sorry purists, but I’d spray the whole place with glyphosate (Roundup). Or at least do it in small sections. I know the potential problems with Glyphosate, but you have to ask yourself the amount of time, energy, money, it takes to fight this Johnson Grass for 4 years vs getting a habitat established quickly, and letting the flora and fauna do their thing. Johnson Grass is a bear. You have to fight dirty.
Future plans: I really want to establish wildflowers in this area for pollinators, butterflies, etc., but am debating how to do so. In my mind I see the native flowers coming through the grasses here and there, looking like a natural prairie. But I’m worried that the grasses will choke out the forbs in most places, so I am considering establishing “beds” of native flowers where I can tend them and ensure their success. It won’t look as natural as I’d hoped, but the pollinators won’t mind I’m sure, and maybe the beds will provide seed for “escapees” to gradually work themselves into niches in the landscape. Wish me luck!
-Joe Roberts, ONPS President