Favorite Forbs and Grasses
Clearings or openings in wooded areas provide exceptional habitat, especially when the clearings are planted to annual and/or permanent (perennial) materials, which provide a source of food and cover as well as an environment conducive to nesting and brood rearing. The trees and shrubs will provide a mast crop (nuts and berries), which is extremely valuable to wildlife during the winter, as well as providing necessary year-round cover. The clearings should provide nesting habitat and additional sources of food. These clearings can also provide birds with a tremendous insect population. Research has demonstrated that the diet of most game birds consists primarily of insects and a variety of grass seeds. In fact, several research projects have demonstrated that poults (young turkeys) can and do survive for several weeks in the absence of standing water, evidently from the moisture provided by insects.
Native grass and forb plantings can provide permanent wildlife habitat. Native grasses such as big bluestem, indiangrass, little bluestem, switchgrass, etc.; and forbs such as showy partridge pea, Illinois bundleflower, Maxmillian sunflower, etc.; can provide a large percentage of the seeds many species of wildlife depend upon for winter survival.
BIG BLUESTEM: A native, warm-season perennial bunchgrass, big bluestem is prized for its ability to provide forage, cover, seed, and nesting habitat for many species of prairie wildlife. Growth begins in early April and at maturation reaches heights of 5 to 8 feet. Big bluestem attracts many varied insects, which provide an additional source of food for gamebirds. Plant in late winter or early spring at a rate of 7 PLS lbs. per acre, using a rangeland type drill. If broadcasting, it is best to sow in mid to late winter at a rate of 10 PLS lbs. per acre.
INDIANGRASS: A warm-season, perennial bunchgrass, indiangrass is one of the most productive of all the warm-season natives. Indiangrass produces a highly palatable forage and is a heavy seed producer. Growth of indiangrass (and other bunch-type natives) occurs in clumps, which provides a dense cover overhead protecting wildlife from predators (hawks, owls, etc.) and a fairly sparse cover at ground level, which is ideal for brood rearing as it allows young birds to move about freely. Plant in late winter or early spring at a rate of 6 PLS lbs. per acre using a rangeland type drill. If broadcasting, sow in mid to late winter at a rate of 8 to 9 PLS per acre.
LITTLE BLUESTEM: Little bluestem is a native warm-season perennial grass adapted to all of the United States except Nevada and Pacific Coast states. Wildlife utilize little bluestem year around for it's nutritious forage, good nesting habitat, large insect population, and cover. Widely adapted, little bluestem will grow on most soil types. Drill in late winter or early spring using a rangeland type drill at a rate of 4 to 6 PLS lbs. per acre. If broadcasting, sow in mid to late winter at a rate of 6 to 7 PLS lbs. per acre.
SWITCHGRASS: Switchgrass is a perennial warm-season grass adapted to the eastern 2/3 of the United States. Wildlife utilize switchgrass year around for nesting, forage, seed and insects. Switchgrass provides a spreading but open sod ideal for brood rearing. It is prized for its ability to withstand the weight of ice and snow, thus providing exceptional cover for all wildlife. Plant in late fall through early spring. Drill at a rate of 3 to 4 PLS lbs. per acre or broadcast at a rate of 4 to 8 PLS lbs. per acre. Both lowland and upland types of switchgrass are available.
SIDEOATS GRAMA GRASS: Sideoats grama is a perennial warm-season bunch grass adapted to areas east of the Rocky Mountain region of the United States. Most often planted in mixtures with other adapted native grasses and forbs, sideoats grama matures seed in mid-summer (much earlier than bluestem, indiangrass, etc.) providing an early source of seed for quail, pheasant, and dove. Plant in late winter or early spring using a rangeland type drill or broadcast in mid to late winter. Seeding rate for drilled stands should be 4 to 6 PLS lbs. per acre and 5 to 8 PLS lbs. per acre for broadcast seedings.
ILLINOIS BUNDLEFLOWER: (Desmanthus illinoensis) - Illinois Bundleflower is a warm-season perennial legume. Deeply rooted, Illinois Bundleflower has good drought tolerance and is well adapted to the central region of the United States. The foliage produced is high in protein and highly palatable to wildlife and livestock. Seeds of Illinois Bundleflower are relished by quail, dove, pheasant, and turkey. Deer are attracted by high quality forage. Sow in late fall through early spring at a rate of 5 lbs. to 8 lbs. per acre at a depth of 1/2 inch.
PURPLE PRAIRIE CLOVER: (Dalea purpurea) - Purple prairie clover is a cool-season native perennial legume often found in association with native prairie grasses. Prairie clover provides excellent quality forage for deer browse and small mammals and birds utilize foliage for cover and seed for food. The bright magenta colored flowers attract insects, which in turn provide birds needed moisture and protein for growth. Seed sources are difficult to locate as demand for this product generally exceeds supplies. Sow at a rate of 3 to 4 lbs. per acre using a drill or band seeder (brillion drill) taking care not to incorporate deeper than 1/2 inch. Best success in establishment is usually achieved with late winter or very early spring planting.
ROUNDHEAD LESPEDEZA: (Lespedeza capitata) - Roundhead lespedeza is a warm-season perennial legume that grows to a height of 3 feet. Roundhead lespedeza is very deeply rooted and drought resistant. Stems are stiff and very leafy. Forage quality is excellent and seeds are prized by quail, dove, and pheasant. Usually found growing in association with native prairie grass and numerous wildflowers, roundhead lespedeza is an exceptional forb to utilize in wildlife seedings. Sow in late fall through early spring at a rate of 8 to 10 lbs. per acre or as a 2% to 5% component of native grass seedings.
SHOWY PARTRIDGE PEA: (Cassia chamaecrista) - A native warm-season annual legume with beautiful, large, showy, yellow flowers. Partridge pea is a fair "reseeder", particularly when patches are lightly disked in early spring to help scarify seed on the ground and promote germination. Showy partridge pea generally grows to heights of 1 1/2 to 3 feet. It provides good cover and food for quail and other wildlife. Often sown with a nurse crop of wheat or rye to protect seedlings until established. Drill 5 to 6 lbs. per acre at 1/2 inch depth or broadcast 8 to 10 lbs. per acre in late winter or early spring.
THICKSPIKE GAYFEATHER: (Liatris pycnostachya) - Thickspike gayfeather is a perennial forb, which produces several up-right stems that attain heights to 3 to 5 feet. Best suited to low prairies or bases of slopes where moisture is usually adequate. The bright purple flowers are numerous, crowded on terminal portion of the stem and bloom from late July through September. Thickspike gayfeather attracts many beneficial insects and adds a unique quality to prairie landscapes. Sow in late fall through early spring at a rate of 2 to 4 lbs. per acre. A 1/4 inch planting depth is ideal.
GRAYHEAD CONEFLOWER: (Ratibida pinnata) - Grayhead coneflower is a perennial forb, which grows 3 to 5 feet tall and produces bright yellow ray flowers, which droop down around the stalk. Many butterflies and moths are attracted to this plant and their resulting larvae is appreciated by all gamebirds. The plant is commonly found growing on dry prairies and open woods with deep soils, in association with tall to mid growing plants (big bluestem, little bluestem, indiangrass, etc.). Sow in late fall through early spring at a rate of 1 1/2 to 3 lbs. per acre or as a 2% to 5% component of native grass seedings.
MAXIMILIAN SUNFLOWER: (Helianthus maxmiliani) - Maximilian sunflower, of all the forbs, is perhaps the best from the standpoint of providing a source of high energy food for gamebirds. Unlike common annual sunflower, Maximilian is a perennial and returns year after year from a rhizomous root system. Instead of one terminal bloom, Maximilian produces literally hundreds of flowers on each plant and each seedhead is packed full of small black seeds relished by all birds. Maximilian matures seed late in the fall and provides much needed food to help see birds through the winter. Plant in late fall through early spring at a rate of 3 to 5 lbs. per acre. A 1/4 inch planting depth is ideal, do not plant too deeply.