Getting your seed mix right is the first step to creating top-notch gamebird and wildlife habitat
By Aaron Kuehl, Pheasants Forever Director of Seed Operations
Each year there are fewer acres of habitat available to wildlife. So it is critical that the remaining acres of habitat be high-quality lest we face continued declines in wildlife populations from pollinators to gamebirds.
Quality habitat for pheasants, quail and all upland wildlife begins with a quality seed mix. In addition to the usual requirements for seed mixes (resource concerns, program and practice requirements, site conditions), here are 5 key considerations for designing a quality seed mix.
Seed populations (number of seeds per acre) are the standard in agriculture. Due to the wide variety in native seed, it’s important that planners utilize seeds / ft2 (seeds per square foot) rather than pounds or ounces per acre, for designing mixes.
As an example, compare the costs of putting the below species in a mix at 1 oz. / acre versus 1 seed / square foot.
Species richness is the number of different species included in the mix. Generally, from a biological and ecological perspective, more species is better; native prairies included hundreds of species. But in restorations, especially non-permanent practices like CRP, mixes eventually fall under the law of diminishing returns. At some point, the cost to add a species to the mix (at a rate that will lead to establishment) becomes prohibitive. Generally, mixes with 20 to 30 species are good quality, but in arid regions good quality may be 10 to 15 species.
Rates are closely related to design criteria. Most states call for drilled seeding rates of 20 to 40 seeds / ft2. More is not necessarily better. Talk with other planners to know which rates are best for your area. On a species basis, I like the rule of 4s: no more than 4 seeds/ft2 and no less than ¼ seed / ft2 with higher amounts being reserved for grasses.
Start with a mix near 50:50 grass:forbs. The importance of forbs to wildlife as a direct and indirect source of food and structure is well documented. Starting with this balance will aid in increased richness and productivity over time.
Habitat cooperators are often tempted to select inferior mixes if they cost significantly less than a quality mix, to keep things affordable. But take some time to request quotes from multiple seed providers (lists are available at your local USDA office), and see if you can juggle in some higher quality.
Please let us know if we can help you with your seed mix design. To check out mixes designed with these 5 criteria, or to request a quote of a mix designed by yourself or another planner, visit the Pheasants Forever Seed Store at PFHabitatStore.com.