Summer Maintenance of Native Seed Projects
Summer Maintenance of Native Seed Projects
Successful native seed projects benefit from at least a few years of monitoring, maintenance, nurturing and upkeep. The level of summer maintenance needed will vary depending on the location and site conditions of each individual project.
Some sites have much heavier competition from non-native or invasive species that can outcompete the native plants being grown from seed. Other sites may need some supplemental summer irrigation to help the native plants establish while they are young.
Monitoring the native seed project site through the summer can help identify any issues that may need to be addressed. Long-term monitoring and tending of the area will lead to a higher percentage of native plants, which will provide better habitat for pollinators and wildlife, as well as native edible and medicinal plants for people.
Using the example of one of our native seed projects at a private fishing retreat on the Klamath River, this blog post will discuss weeding, irrigation and monitoring for a successful native seed project. The project site was prepped and seeded in early fall 2018. The seed mix included 57 species of wildflowers and native grasses native to the local area.
Weeding invasive yellow star thistle and dyer’s woad out of a two-year-old KSNS native seed project site along the Klamath River in northern California.
Summer maintenance includes weeding to help knock back non-native and invasive plant species in order to give the native species a better chance to establish and grow. Keeping down the encroachment of non-native and invasive species within your seed project area is an important part of the long-term maintenance of the project; however, different projects may need to work harder to eliminate non-native species than others, depending on the desired outcomes, and available time to weed yourself and/or money to hire someone to weed for you.
Although you may not completely eliminate non-native and invasive species altogether, it is important to keep in mind that native plants, in general, support three times as many species of butterflies and moths as introduced plants, and overall, native plants support more native wildlife and birds as well. The higher percentage of native plants you can achieve in your native seed project area, the more optimal habitat for native pollinators and wildlife you will create, as well as the potential for an increase in native edible and medicinal plants for people.
Identification of small seedlings can be tricky sometimes. When weeding non-native and invasive plants out of a native seed project it is imperative that there is correct identification of the seedlings so native plants aren’t inadvertently ‘weeded’ out of the project area. Additionally, careful weeding is important, so that root disturbance to the nearby native plants is minimized while pulling out non-native and invasive plants.
The use of supplemental summer irrigation can help native plants grown from seed establish during the first year or two after seeding. Especially during drought years, like this year in the Klamath-Siskiyou region, young plants may succumb to drought stress and die. In nature this is just a part of natural cycles, but when a lot of time, labor and money has gone into a native seed project, the success of the project is important. Water is not available for every project site; however, if it is available, a little water can go a long way toward ensuring project success.
For projects that are using locally collected seed from drought tolerant species, regular irrigation is not necessary. In fact, some drought tolerant native plants can die from too much irrigation. You just need enough to help the drought tolerant plants establish.
In the Klamath-Siskiyou region on really dry, sun-baked sites, a deep water every 2-3 weeks may be helpful from late spring to late summer for the first 1-2 years, but for higher elevation sites, moister sites, or projects in part-shade, a deep water once a month may be all that’s needed to help the plants establish better.
Idaho gumweed (Grindelia nana) blooming during the summer of 2020 in our Klamath River project seeded in the fall of 2018. Idaho gumweed germinated readily and bloomed in the second summer.
Monitoring a native seed project is a visual assessment that tracks some the following aspects:
- which species germinated well in the seed project area;
- which species failed to germinate;
- which annual species were able to flower and go to seed;
- which perennial species put on growth or began to bloom;
- what non-native or invasive species grew in the project area;
- how many species in your seed mix did or didn’t survive the first year;
- what insects, pollinators or wildlife used the plants in the project area;
- and more!
Monitoring can just be a casual evaluation, or you can document the information in a file or spreadsheet for the future and implement more quantitative and detailed, long-term monitoring projects involving plots, transects and photo points. No matter how formal or informal your monitoring method, you can use the information gained to benefit your site or future project areas.
Learning, watching your plants grow, and observing their use by wildlife are the most rewarding parts of a native seed project. These rewards can be better appreciated if you monitor your site. Any form of monitoring, no matter how casual or formal, will help you learn from your project, refine your techniques and become a better land steward.
Annual ballhead gilia, and perennials, Indian paintbrush and barestem buckwheat blooming in the second summer of the project.
Elegant tarweed (Madia elegans) is an annual wildflower that blooms late in the summer, providing beneficial floral resources for pollinators at a crucial time. It has long been valued as a native food crop. Tarweed germinated some the first year of the project, but germinated even more and bloomed profusely in the second year.
Oregon sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum) is a ‘workhorse species.’ It germinates readily, is drought tolerant and deer resistant. It also reseeds itself. Oregon sunshine bloomed in the second summer of the native seed project.
Whether you’re maintaining or ‘wild tending’ a large or small native seed project area, a little bit of work can make a big difference in successfully growing native plants from seed! Enjoy the results!