Six Ingredients for Upland Habitat Project Success

d5bc56d4-d5ad-4c50-a402-54d4fac24c25 With spring just around the corner, one of the most important times of the year for wildlife habitat is about to start. March and April are when the projects for new or improved wildlife habitat need to be planned, scheduled, ordered and planted.

Just like any agricultural crop, wildlife habitat needs to be approached with planning and attention to detail. By following some key steps, wildlife habitat that produces great results for many years is just around the corner. Whether your objectives are to have habitat for pheasants, quail, grassland songbirds, deer, butterflies, or pollinators, the recipe for success includes six key principles to successful planning:

Establish Your Goals. Different seeding mixtures produce different results. Plan ahead by thinking about what you want to achieve and then design your habitat to achieve those goals. The mixture you plant should be designed for your specific soil type, goals and budget.

More Diversity Equals Better Habitat. The more species you include in your planting mixture, the better wildlife habitat you’ll have. Great habitat projects should be designed and planted with 30 to 60 different species. Including more species in your habitat planting doesn’t have to increase the cost of your project when the mixture is crafted carefully.

Balance Grasses and Wildflowers. If you want to maintain the diversity of your planting, it's important to design and use a seeding mixture where more than 50 percent of it is made up of wildflowers and legumes. A mixture that is comprised primarily of grasses will out-compete the wildflowers and legumes, becoming a grass-dominated stand in as little as two to four years. For maximum wildlife benefits, use a mixture that is designed to have 75 percent seeding wildflowers and 25 percent grasses.

Main Ingredient is Time. Be prepared for some of the species in your planting to take some time to become established. Some may actually require several years to show up in your planting. With time, you’ll have the diversity of species that will produce the wildlife habitat objectives you sought. Have patience and enjoy the process.

Future Management. To produce great results, you won’t be able to plant something, walk away from it for years and expect it to be great habitat. If you want to produce more wildlife and have benefits for many years, you need to plan on adding some type of management practice to your planting every three to five years. When planned ahead, management activities that produce great results can include prescribed burns, inter-seeding, grazing, chemical application or haying.

Ask for Help. If you’re looking for assistance in navigating your way, Pheasants Forever biologists are located across the country in partnerships with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service and state agencies. These biologists are experts at designing habitat and meeting wildlife objectives, and can help you get started. In addition to helping plan and guide the project, Pheasants Forever may also be able to help obtain your habitat project seeding mixtures and get access to habitat equipment.

The recipe for a successful habitat project is not complicated - it just needs to follow a proven path to success. Now would be a great time to start planning, designing and ordering those key ingredients — the recipe for habitat success.

For information and to order Pheasants Forever’s habitat seed mixes, including our highly diverse pollinator habitat mix, call (563) 926-2357 or email Matt O’Connor at moconnor@pheasantsforever.org. For information and to order food and cover plot mixes, visit www.pheasantsforever.org/seed.  

-Pete Berthelsen is Pheasants Forever’s Director of Habitat Partnerships. He resides in St. Paul, Neb., with his wife, Laura, where they manage more than 160 acres for upland birds and other wildlife.