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Prairie Facts

The prairie is a diverse ecosystem of mainly native grasses and flowering plants (forbs) with prairie wildlife, soil, geology, and fire playing very important roles.

Planting A Tallgrass Prairie: What To Plant

Compiled by Lee Stone, reprinted from the Prairie Dog, Spring Issue, Mar.-May 1993, updated Feb 2001.

[Editor note: We recommend using local ecotype, non-cultivar native seed for grasses and forbs harvested within 150 miles of the planting site, if possible. If not possible, we suggest using non-cultivar native seed from as close to the planting site as possible, and only using the named cultivars as a last resort.]

What’s Available. These grasses are usually available commercially: little bluestem, indiangrass, sideoats grama, blue grama, green sprangletop, and buffalo grass.

Ask seed suppliers for local ecotype native seed or native seed collected and harvested from wild populations as close to the planting side as possible.

Use named cultivars of native plants as a last resort. Cultivars include: Indiangrass (Lometa and Cheyenne), sideoats grama (Haskell for the whole state and El Reno for the northern half of the state) buffalo grass is typically a hybridized Texas-Oklahoma variety called Texoka. Other varieties are now available for lawn plugs.  There are two cultivars of black grama, neither is from Texas; and three cultivars of blue grama, none from Texas.  sideoats- El Reno northern half of state. both rhizomatous. Premier is a bunch.

If using named cultivars of native grasses, use Big Earl big bluestem.  This is the only big bluestem seed native to Texas.  The other big blue seeds are Oklahoma or Kansas stock. These is not recommended by NPAT for the drier, hotter, southern half of Texas. 

The only native lovegrass on the market is Bend sand lovegrass from Kansas/Nebraska. 

For Texas source native grass and forb (wildflower) seeds, it is always a good idea to call Native American Seed Company in Junction.  They have the largest selection of native seeds in the state. 

If you want any of the muhlys, you will have to plant container plants, which you can obtain from a very few nurseries such as Madrone Nursery in San Marcos south of Austin and Bluestem Nursery in Arlington.  Check these same three companies for others that are not commonly part of the nursery trade, such as cupgrass, dropseed and gramas.  Madrone Nursery has a large selection of Eastern Gamagrass.

What’s Not Available for Texas.  Everything else. No native lovegrasses, no cupgrass, no vine-mesquite, no curly mesquite, few gramas, no tridens, and no seed for Texas varieties of buffalograss. Trichloris crinata (False Roadgrass), Eastern Gamagrass: no commerical supply developed yet? Herbeceous mimosa - perennial legume. Wright’s pavonia- central and south Tx. Canada Wildrye-ask for it so growers will grow it. Western Indigo: ask to get them interested.  Purple and white prairie clover.  Panhandle: roundhead lespedeza.

Helpful Hint #1. When calling seed suppliers about native grass seeds, it helps to be very specific about the kinds of seeds you want. Many folks who answer the phone at a supplier’s office will not know the meaning of the word “native.” They may assume that any grass they have in stock is native because they grew the stock in Texas.

Helpful Hint #2. On rare occasions, the clerk who answers the phone will actually try to talk you out of using natives and into using seeds of introduced non-native grasses that they are more familiar with. Be gentle but firm with them when telling them no.

Helpful Hint #3. In general NPAT recommends using grass seed from stock which originated from no more than 300 miles of your location, preferably from within 100 miles. This is not always possible. Often the supplier will tell you where the general area in which it was harvested, so be prepared to dig a little deeper to find out where it came from before that. Ask your supplier if he knows where the seed stock originated. 

Helpful Hint #4: Call all the suppliers, even if they are headquartered far from you, they have seed combined from fields all over Texas. Prices vary and so does the variety of seeds. Sometimes a supplier will tell you there is no more seed of a particular kind of grass available in the state, but another supplier may have it.  Occasionally one of the suppliers will have a rare harvest of a different prairie grass. So ask around. 

How Much to Plant? Most suppliers can recommend to you a minimum amount to plant for erosion control. If you can afford it, don’t be afraid to double that amount. If it’s too much to put out with a single pass of the seed drill, just drill a second time, crossing your earlier paths at right angles. Years ago, David Riskind, who is Resource Manager for Texas Parks and Wildlife, told me the amount of seed you use depends of the resources you’ve got. For example, if you won’t be able to easily mow the plantings to control weeds, you could compensate for the weed competition by putting out more seed.

Put out most of your seed in the proportion you want the final prairie to be in. For a Blackland Prairie, you’d want mostly little bluestem with the others mixed in where it was appropriate for them: for example, Indiangrass and switchgrass where it’s moister and the soils deeper. In my restoration project on deep soils, I used 15 lbs pls/ac (pure live seed, as opposed to bulk) little bluestem, 15 lbs pls/ac indiangrass, 7 lbs pls/ac switchgrass, and 7 lbs pls/ac Haskell sideoats. I didn’t use buffalo grass, but wish I had. It is certainly an important component.

Time Will Tell. When it was all said and done, I wished I’d planted double or triple the amount of sideoats. It was the one plant that came up that first growing season, matured and made seeds. The others are more conservative in their appearances. While I waited for them to be more visible, the weeds were going great guns. Had I planted more sideoats, they would have helped keep the tall weeds down and the planting would have looked better earlier. However, you have time on your side. The little bluestems are really dominating the landscape now and and indiangrass is coming on stronger and stronger every year.

What about Prairie Seed hay? Sometimes there is seed from a real prairie harvest. Bob and Mickey Burleson of Temple occasionally have prairie seed hay. There is sometimes seed hay from the Meador Prairie in St. Jo (north central) Texas.  Seed hay should be put out soon after harvest in the fall.  NPAT has a brief list of prairie remnants whose owners may be willing to negotiate the sale of prairie seed hay. write us if you are interested and tell us what county you are in.

The Very Helpful List! The following is a partial list of some of the larger native grass seed suppliers in Texas.

Native American Seed http://www.seedsource.com

Bamert Seed Co. of Muleshoe 800-262-9892  

Bob Turner Seed Co. of Breckenridge 817-559-2065

Curtis and Curtis in New Mexico has seed for west Texas. 

Douglass King’s Seed Co. of San Antonio 210-661-4191

Foster-Rambie Grass Seed of Uvalde 512-278-2711  

George Warner Seed Co. of Hereford 806-364-4470

Harpool Seed Inc of Dallas 214-421-7181

High Plains Native Grass, Inc of Maple 806-927-5545

Sharp Brothers Seed Co. of Amarillo 806-352-2781

An up-to-date list of grass and wildflower seed suppliers and nurseries can be obtained from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center 4801 Lacrosse Avenue in Austin, 78739-1702 (512-292-4200).  Or go to the Texas NRCS website, then click on plant materials information.  It provides a list of many species native and exotic and suppliers.