LSU’s AgCenter at Burden Research Station in Baton Rouge and The Hammond Research Station have just installed some new plots of native grass plantings using seed from a Texas source (yea, I said Texas) and local-genetic seed from Candi and I. I was thinking the other day how comical it’ll be if the Texas seed out-performs than the Louisiana seed. I kind of doubt that that will be the case. But we shall see.
I don’t know the intricate details of the projects other than to say that they are comparing genetic strains for seed viability (how well the seed grows). I will very much enjoy following the planting’s progress and I am hopeful that these trials will help promote the use of these wonderful native plants, locally. I am also hoping that they will be kept permanently since I believe the trial period for the project is two to three years and this is about how long it takes to get them fully established. They will just be getting started at that point.
Candi and I provided two different mixes for these plantings. I will step out on a limb here and say that, knowing the mix from the Texas source and knowing the two mixes we provided, I put my money on Louisiana seed, which is well-adapted to our Gulf-coastal influenced weather conditions. The Gulf of Mexico brings tropically generated rain and extreme high humidity for our very long summers here to Louisiana. This is not something you’ll find way-west of Houston, the origin of the Texas seed.
One of the mixes Candi and I provided is a particularly delightful association of low-growing native grasses not common to the State where everything is supposedly bigger. I hope to one day see this special mix marketed commercially as a local substitute for a “low-mow” turf, one that is more friendly to our environment. I would like to see it called Tiger Turf.
In the upper Mid-west and in the Short grass prairie region of the U.S., they already have a “low-mow” turf mix. We, on the other hand, don’t. My hope is that we can change that. Lets hope Dr. Keuhny’s work reveals the quirks, the problems and the successes toward this endeavor.
above: Jason Stagg and associates just after planting the LSU Burden Station’s trial plots. (click to enlarge photo)
I know that one of the planting methods for the trial originated from Dr. Susan Barton, Assistant Professor of Plant Science, University of Delaware. She has worked with roadside plantings with the Delaware State Department of Transportation. She did her Doctoral thesis on this topic.
I talked to Dr. Barton recently about another, much larger native grass project that I am helping develop at the Hammond Station. She told me about a method she has used for establishing home-landscape-scale Indian grass meadows using saw dust mixed with the Indian grass seed. This recipe is mixed (by way of front-end-loader on a tractor, or by shovel for smaller projects) and is then spread across the planting area an inch thick using hard-rakes. The saw dust helps in suppressing weeds and assisting with the Indian grass seed germination. Dr. Barton told me that this method works very well. She told me the story about a planting she had done in the spring this year, that has become very well established with very little weed presence as of October.
These are the kinds of ideas (those that have been successful in other parts of the country) that need to be studied so that they can be utilized in establishing field trials for landscape gardening with meadow projects here in the Deep South. This will give us the tools to help us become more pro-active about the needs of our environment, building natural habitat in our own backyards (and front yards) since this need is clearly evident. This is the sort of thing has been done (and is still being done) by some of the Louisiana Coastal Prairie prairie researchers for the past twenty five years (this is the 25 year anniversary of the beginning of the Cajun Prairie Restoration Project, Eunice, Louisiana). The work (the Cajun Prairie work) was done for the purpose of understanding more about how the many intricate parts of restored prairies work, here in our unique climate, so that we could learn how to better restore them. The work that was done with prairies over the last eighty-plus years in the Mid-west was the basis for this earlier work in Louisiana. If you are interested in this Mid-western work, purchase a copy of The Tall Grass Restoration Handbook, a very useful reference. Many of the techniques used by the folks above the Mason-Dixon apply to us, here, down in Dixie.
Three of my most significant mentors in the eco-restore field have said that “understanding the parts of the prairie ecosystem and how they work is the only way to learn how to restore prairie”. I have found this statement to be most significant and true.
I believe that this idea is also true about the use of native grass meadows in the landscaped garden. I suspect that this core idea is true with all fields of work too, but the changes and progressive stages of prairie restoration are so very subtle that they need constant field observation and study to really be able to discern and grasp them. That is why we prairie enthusiasts have a constant need to be in the field. We need to observe as often as possible, the few pieces of the puzzle that are left, to help us transfer that idea into planting projects, via seed. This is true with all aspects of prairie restoration. I am sure it applies to the landscape-garden-oriented work that I hope to see incorporated into our regional nursery-landscape industry one day in the near future.
Dr. Jeff Keuhny, director of Burden, is heading these two native grass projects, with the help of his graduate student, Jason Stagg and others. They should be commended for their interest, their insight, and for their efforts.