Habitat How To: Don’t Skip the Site Prep


Don’t miss these critical steps in your next planting effort

By Aaron Kuehl, Director of Seed Operations

Site preparation is critical to the success of habitat seeding projects for food plots, as well as conservation efforts such as CRP or pollinator acres. Put another way, poor site preparation is the primary factor responsible for failed habitat seeding projects. 

Good site preparation involves 1) reducing weed competition, 2) modifying the seed bed to ensure proper seed-to-soil contact and, in some cases 3) amending the soil for optimum growing conditions. 

It is unlikely the weeds found growing in a new habitat project came from a bag of seed. Instead, they were in the soil waiting for the right conditions to germinate. Most weeds are annuals with a life history of fast establishment following soil disturbance and production of high quantities of seed in a single growing season … rinse and repeat. 

Good site preparation techniques will focus on minimizing disturbance and exhausting the seed bank to compete with, kill, smother and/or suppress undesired plants.

Techniques to ensure proper seed-to-soil contact include removing barriers such as dead vegetation or sod that would prevent seed from contacting the soil, and ensuring seed is delivered to the appropriate depth (not too shallow or buried). 

For some habitat projects, mostly food plots, it is also important that the soil has the appropriate amendments (fertilizer, nutrients and pH) to promote growth and seed production.     

Several site preparation techniques can be used individually or in combination to achieve good site preparation.

  • Mechanical site preparation such as disking can be used to ensure proper seed-to-soil contact, but can also be employed to exhaust weed seed (example — light disking after weed germination). 
  • Herbicides are often used to kill actively growing weeds, but some herbicides can also provide residual suppression of problem weeds.
  • The power of the sun can be employed through solarization to kill weed seeds in the soil. 
  • Companion crops such as oats or desired annuals can be used in perennial seedings to occupy space, reducing availability for the undesirable annuals known as weeds.

Don’t waste your investments in seed, soil amendments and time by skipping or haphazardly completing site preparation on your habitat project. Site preparation can be quite different depending on existing site conditions, type of seed to be planted and available equipment. Make sure your technique creates the right seed bed for your project. 

For more information on site preparation, visit PFHabitatStore.com/resources, talk with your local Farm Bill biologist or call our conservation specialist team at 866-914-7373.

And Think Habitat!

Visit our online Habitat Store at PFHabitatStore.com to Purchase with a Purpose: All proceeds from the seed program support our mission of putting more habitat on the ground, youth in our fields and birds in the air. Thank you for being a valued cooperator and supporting PF’s upland habitat conservation mission.

This story originally appeared in the 2022 Summer Issue of the Pheasants Forever Journal. If you enjoyed it and would like to be the first to read more great upland content like this, become a Pheasants Forever member today!