Planting or Seeding Your Prairie



In Minnesota, this runs from late May to mid-July. Do not plant before late May because your seeds may freeze, and if you plant after mid-July, they may not get enough rain. Planting in the spring also reduces competition with cool-season plants.


In Minnesota this runs from mid-September until the ground freezes. This method mimics natural cycles, but make sure that it is consistently cold because if it warms up your seeds might germinate and then be killed when winter comes. Seeds must be stratified (exposed to cold) before they will germinate. Commercially sold seeds are already stratified, but if you got your seed somewhere else, it is probably best to plant in the fall.

Planting Methods

Successful seed germination depends on sufficient water and seed to soil contact. Begin with a smooth firm seedbed and be sure to pack the soil after seeding. In order to insure sufficient water for the seedlings, which are susceptible to drought, plant your seeds when you are sure they will get enough rain. It’s a good idea to check your area’s average rainfall.

Native-Seed Drill

The native-seed drill is a good choice for no-till seeding, spring planting, or when you require very even coverage. Drills can be rented or borrowed, but inquire well in advance because many people may want to use the drills at the same time. Different sizes are available, depending on what will be pulling it (tractors, ATVs, etc.).

The native-seed drill opens furrows and measures out specific amounts of seed, the seeds are then covered up and the soil is compacted by rubber rollers. The drill is designed to plant seeds of different sizes and shapes, and the seed must be very clean or else it will clog up the drill. The native-seed drill does plant in parallel rows, and this may be evident for a little while in your prairie.

How to Drill

Seeds should be planted less than 1/2 inch in the soil, unless you have especially sandy soils, then they should be planted less than 3/4 inch deep. You must calibrate the planting rate that you want, and the frill shouldn’t go more than 3 miles/hour. Keep the seedbox as full as possible, and if you use a carrier medium with your seeds, avoid using sand. Some drills have separate boxes for large and small seeds. Very small seeds need to be planted at a shallow depth, so it is best to hand broadcast these seeds after planting.


Broadcasting is the spreading of seed on the soil surface. After broadcasting, the seeds are lightly incorporated and the soil is packed. Broadcasting can be done by hand or mechanically by truck and tractor-pulled agricultural broadcasters. You can also use small fertilizer spreaders, available at most hardware stores. Broadcasting requires no special equipment and offers a less structured look to the prairie. The seed doesn’t have to be particularly clean for it to work well. Broadcasting works well when planting in burned or mowed cover crops.

How to Broadcast

Don’t broadcast seed on a windy day. Clean seeds may need to be mixed with one to four parts of an inert carrier, such as vermiculite. Small seeds should be handled separately. Be sure not to broadcast the seeds too thickly, a cup of seed/carrier mix should cover a 10 by 10-foot area.

Use a garden cultivator or rake to incorporate the seeds, don’t bury them more than _ inch deep. To pack the soil, you can simply walk over your site, or use a hand-pushed roller. Any heavy object that can be rolled will work.

Nurse Crops

Nurse crops are annuals that germinate quickly. They help to reduce seed loss, erosion and they suppress weeds. They are usually drilled, even if the rest of your site was broadcast. Oats, wheat and annual rye are examples of good nurse crops.

Maintaining Your Prairie


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Last updated: December 26, 2017

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