A photo of an open palm from above, holding a handful of seeds

Reaching the day of a meadow seeding is exciting! It follows upon what can sometimes be an extended period in which existing vegetation is removed. Even if working with newly placed soils, weeds are ideally allowed to express themselves on existing soil or newly placed soils and are then killed off prior to the installation of meadow seed. After the work of site preparation, it can feel momentous to reach the point of getting seeds out into the landscape. Depending upon when the site preparation sequence commences, seeding is scheduled to occur in late spring/very early summer or in late fall (known as a dormant seeding).

Photo of a skid steer with a mounted soil conditioner being used to scarify soil before seeding

The first task on seeding day is to scarify the soil, which  enables critical soil-to-seed contact for germination. The seeding area is raked over with either a skid-steer mounted soil conditioner, or steel hand rakes. Sometimes, a chain drag harrow pulled by a UTV can have the same soil scarification effect as a soil conditioner. On very small but clear seeding sites (where the seeding area is around 4,000 square feet and free of obstacles) a dethatcher can be used for soil scarification rather than hand raking.

Photo of people using hand rakes to scarify soil prior to seeding.

We typically employ multiple seeding methods on each project.  If a project is large (typically 3+ acres) we will likely use a no-till drill seeder, which creates shallow slits in the soil where seeds are deposited before the furrow is pressed closed. The drill seeder is pulled by a tractor with a skilled operator in the driver seat. It ideally has three seed boxes to account for the varied seed sizes of native meadow species, from small seed species (i.e., Penstemon digitalis), large seed species (i.e., Chamaecrista fasciculata) and fluffy seed specie (i.e., Schizachyrium scoparium). The seeder is calibrated on site to put out the correct seed quantity to cover the entire project area.

Photo of the box of a drill seeder that is holding a large amount of seed. Two hands are leaning on top of the machine

Smaller areas with designed overlays and drifts —or those which are harder to access with a tractor—are seeded by hand. Depending on site accessibility, layout, and size, the entire project area may need to be hand seeded. In this case, the seed is mixed with a carrier which acts as a bulking agent, ensuring even distribution of the seed.

Photo of an open palm holding seed and moistened pine shavings over the mouth of a seeding bucket

LWLA’s preferred carrier is moistened pine shavings, because it is a light, readily available medium. This matters when you are hand carrying lots of buckets over the course of the seeding day! The light color of pine shavings also makes it clear where seed has been put down in the seeding area. Once seed and carrier are loaded into buckets, the mixture is and scattered by hand in the designated areas.  Depending on the size of the hand seeding, having a group of people to do the slinging can be helpful–and fun!

Photo of two people holding buckets. They are seeding a large open field.

Following seeding, areas with steep slopes need some sort of protection to prevent newly sown seed and loose soil from washing away. Our preference is a biodegradable matting (typically jute or coir), which lets in enough light for the underlying seeds to germinate and will break down in 1-2 years following installation. The spacing on the crossed fibers of the matting must also be wide enough to allow seeded species, some of which have broader leaves, to emerge through the gaps and not be suppressed by dense fibers. Hydromulching is also an option over the placed seed on steep slopes but a fertilizer free product should be used.

Once seeding occurs, the area should not be driven on with equipment or otherwise experience heavy traffic (occasional light foot traffic is fine). Simple barriers or signage can help people understand the need to treat the area with care.

Photo of a hillside covered with biodegradable matting. This protects newly sown seed from washing away while it becomes established.

The next step is to stand back and wait for seeds to germinate. For a seeding that occurs during the growing season, germination occurs throughout that season. Sometimes germination may be slower if rain is limited but the seeds will wait for when conditions are right. For seeding that occurs in late fall, seeds germinate the following spring. This overwintering period means that the seeds experience the natural freeze/thaw cycles that are critical to the germination requirements of some native species.

Ultimately there’s something magical about a seeding — it’s an act of hope and trust, putting out these little genetic vessels into the landscape to do their thing. And then we must wait for the miracle of life that is embedded in every individual seed to unfold. It can give one a sense of being part of something larger. Putting out already grown plants in the landscape is equally an act of hope but it feels different than what a seeding evokes. We feel fortunate that we’re able to work on projects in using the magic of seed.