Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Penn State Extension Watershed Winds: Meadow Planting At Spring Creek In Dauphin County

By Dr. Tyler A. Groh, Assistant Research Professor

The following article first appeared in the Penn State Watershed Winds newsletter on May 24, 2022--

In Pennsylvania there is a great effort to protect our local streams' water quality. One of the main methods is through tree plants directly adjacent to the water's edge. These plantings are called riparian buffers. 

During spring 2021, we planted two sections of riparian buffer with woody species along Spring Creek in Dauphin County, PA. 

More information on these plantings can be found in a previous article: New Research and Education Buffer Planting in Dauphin County

This planting was the start of the long-term riparian buffer project we started and birthed the At the Side of Spring Creek article series.

If you read more about our planting in the linked article above, you will note that we planned on three planted sections. 

The third and final section to this buffer is the non-woody species, meadow section, which took a whole year of preparation. This preparation is crucial to control weeds and obtain adequate plant establishment.

The preparation included three weed herbicide treatments to remove any weeds and to burn down the soil’s weed seedbank that has built up over time. 

Herbicide, in this case an aquatic safe version of glyphosate, was sprayed on June 24th 2021, November 19th 2021, and April 27th 2022. 

This herbicide was safe to use near surface water bodies and was administered with the help of licensed pesticide applicators. 

The goal of this herbicide treatment was to chemically burn down all types of vegetation, both grasses and broadleaf vegetation. 

Ultimately, we wanted to make sure all vegetation planted in this meadow buffer are native to Pennsylvania.  

Beyond herbicide application, we also tried to establish a cover crop, rye grass, at the end of the year in 2021. 

Rye grass was planted to reduce early weed pressure in Spring 2022. We were not able to seed this rye grass until early December 2021 and therefore had very little success. It is recommended to seed rye grass before the beginning of October in most locations within Pennsylvania. 

This failed cover crop establishment highlights the need for having a plan for your planting, whether it involves trees or meadow vegetation. In some unavoidable cases, such as ours, plans change, but it is always best to understand the plants' needs for planting and growing (frost date, soil wetness, pH, shade and sun requirement, etc.).

Once the site was prepped, a group of volunteers from Penn State Extension’s Water Resources Team helped plant the meadow seeds on May 13th 2022. 

This planting day started with preparing the soil for the seeds. Since we were planting an old corn and soybean rotated no till field, the soil was too firm for seeds to be planted by hand without specialty equipment. 

The soil needed to be worked up to ensure proper soil-seed contact. For this, we used metal rakes and garden hoes to turn over the top two to three inches of soil. After raking, the soil’s surface was light and fluffy for easy seed planting (hand broadcasting).

The meadow seeds contained 25 species including: Little Bluestem, Virginia Wildrye, Wild Senna, Marsh Blazing Star, Appalachian Beardtongue, Mistflower, Aromatic Aster, Zigzag Aster, Purple Coneflower, Lanceleaf Coreopis, Butterfly Milkweed, Golden Alexanders, Gray Goldenrod, Swamp Milkweed, Common Milkweed, Hairy Beardtongue, Smooth Blue Aster, New England Aster, Blackeyed Susan, Oxeye Sunflower, Licorice Scented Goldenrod, Narrowleaf Mountainmint, Partridge Pea, Ohio Spiderwort, and Wild Bergamo. 

The recommended seeding rate for this mixture was 6 pounds per acre. Since we only had a half-acre to plant, we used 3 pounds of this seed (roughly 1 gallon of seed), mixed in with 9 gallons of washed sand to create approximately 10 gallons of material to spread. 

This was done to better ensure an even spread of meadow seed while giving us enough material to spread over the entire half-acre. 

Take note that it is super difficult to evenly apply a small quantity of material, in this case seeds, over a large area. Mixing seeds with an inert material helps. 

After planting our meadow seeds, we would not recommend using sand unless you dry it out prior to using. 

Rather, a non-clumping cat litter or rice hulls would work better with rotary hand spreaders. 

This is a lesson we learned, and one we want to pass on to you and your meadow!  

To ensure proper soil protection during seed germination, we also planted an oat cover crop seed at a 30 pounds per acre rate. This was done with a handheld rotary spreader over the top of the meadow seed and sand mixture. 

Once the oat cover crop seed was spread by hand, straw was used to cover the seed and the bare soil. Straw helps keep in moisture and heat to help with germination. Straw will also help keep the seeds in place and protect them against any birds that may want to eat them.

Our new meadow buffer may just look like a half-acre worth of straw right now. However, in a few months we will bring you all an update on the establishment progress. 

Please stay tuned to your Watershed Winds monthly newsletter for the next iteration of At the Side of Spring Creek.

(Reprinted from Penn State Watershed Winds newsletterClick Here to sign up for your own copy.)  

Resource Links:

-- New Research and Education Buffer Planting in Dauphin County 

-- At the Side of Spring Creek article series 

-- Recommendations to seed rye grass 

-- [DCNR Lawn To Meadow webpage]

-- [DCNR “Let It Grow” educational video]

Penn State Extension Watershed Winds Articles:

-- Celebrating Chesapeake Bay Awareness Week June 4 - 12

-- Stream Health To Be Highlighted At North American Manure Expo July 13-14, Franklin County

-- Managing Your Farm Pond To Get Maximum Benefit

Extension Upcoming Events:

-- Penn State Extension: Get Outside With Extension

-- May 27: Stormwater BMP Walk, Greensburg, Westmoreland County

-- June 8: Webinar: Iron, Manganese, Hydrogen Sulfide In Drinking Water Wells

-- June 8: Webinar: Citizen Science Tool - First Investigation Of Stream Health

-- June 9: Stormwater BMP Walk, Carlisle, Cumberland County

-- June 10: Stream Health & Riparian Buffer Walk, Clear Creek State Park, Jefferson County

-- June 15: Webinar: Bacteria And Drinking Water Wells

-- Multiple Dates: Private Water Supply Education & Water Testing

Related Articles:

-- Tell Your Legislator NOW To Set Aside $500 Million From Federal American Rescue Funds To Support Local Environmental, State Park & Forest Projects 

-- Stroud Water Research Center Celebrates 10 Years Of Watershed Restoration - 1,000 Acres Of Riparian Buffers, 41,000 Acres Of Improved Soil Health 

-- Streambank Stabilization Project At Shirk Farms, Snyder County Highlights Importance Of Farm Conservation Practices To Improving Water Quality 

-- Warren Conservation District 'Save The Rain' Educational Workshop Highlights How Rain Barrels Help Reduce Pollution

-- Rodale Institute To Hold Organic Field Day July 22 In Berks County 

[Posted: May 24, 2022]  PA Environment Digest

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