The Value of Planting Habitat in the Dormant Season

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Mimic nature’s cycle to ensure your planting success

Luke Zilverberg

Let’s assume you are an avid upland hunter and you just bought 20 acres of tillable farmland. You and your family have no interest in farming but are familiar with the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) so you decide to enroll all 20 acres in the CP42 pollinator practice.

During the planning process you begin to ask questions, one of them being, when is the best time of year to plant my seed mix? After working with your local Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever Farm Bill biologist, he/she recommends seeding during the dormant season. So, then you ask yourself, why dormancy and not early spring?

The answer is, because dormant seeding mimics the traditional growth patterns of plants.

When the weather begins to get chilly and the growing season comes to an end, most plants allocate their resources to reproduction and producing seeds. Dormant seeding occurs after the growing season when plants have already produced seeds, are inactive, and have a reduced metabolic rate.

Plants are still developing morphologically and physiologically to prepare for spring germination, but their physical growth halts for the winter. I know Mother Nature is forever changing, but ideally, I tell landowners to plant after a few hard freezes or when there is a light dusting of snow on the ground.

Generally speaking, if the soil temperature is less than 50oF it will prevent seeds from germinating until spring. Keep an eye on the weather forecast and wait as long as possible, because if seeds germinate in the fall, and do not fully establish, there will be nothing to grow the following years.

Grassland seeds vary in the amount of time they can persist in the soil; some species can remain in the soil for years without germinating. Seeds differ in size, shape, seed coat thickness, and moisture content.

Dormant seeding when soil temperatures drop is extremely valuable, as seeds will be exposed to cold and snow throughout the winter. The cold and snow will soften seed coats and help stratify the seed, which will help certain species germinate in the spring. When spring finally arrives, the seeds will be ready to emerge with the help of snow melt and spring rains to provide adequate moisture. This is also a huge benefit for the producer, as they will save on watering costs in a typical year.

Although studies indicate dormant seeding increases seed mortality of different warm season grasses, it benefits the germination of wildflowers.

Therefore, I recommend dormant seeding to all producers that have a goal to see a vast number of wildflowers. In the end, the wildflowers will not only look beautiful in the summer, but will attract multiple pollinators, upland birds, and other critters for all to enjoy.