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Mr. Smarty Plants - Smarty Plants on CRABGRASS

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Tuesday - August 23, 2005

From: Flat Rock, IN
Region: Midwest
Topic: Wildflowers
Title: Smarty Plants on CRABGRASS
Answered by: Nan Hampton, Steve Windhager, Mark Simmons and Joe

QUESTION:

I live in Indiana and purchased native wildflower seeds from the soil and conservation district in my area. I completly tilled the 10x70 foot patch and planted the seeds as directed. Some of them are growing but I have a problem, CRABGRASS. The grass grew so fast that it is hindering flower growth. I tried to cut it out by hand, but the flowers have such small stems from trying to keep up with the grass that most of them are too heavy on top to support there own weight. Is there something I can do about the crabgrass and what can I do for those poor flowers? Any help would be great!!!

ANSWER:

First, tilling the soil before planting your wildflower seeds sounds like a good idea, but it is probably at the heart of your problem. This major disturbance of the soil allowed aggressive pioneer species (weeds) like crabgrass to quickly become established and overwhelm the less competitive wildflowers. The first task is to get rid of the crabgrass. Since crabgrass is an annual, you want to keep seeds from setting and dropping by removing all seed heads. You can do this by mowing before the seeds set. You also want to remove the crabgrass plants. For your size plot (10' X 70') pulling or digging out the plants is an option--a lot of work, but not out of the question. If you can remove the seed heads before they set and drop, you can wait for the first freeze to kill the crabgrass and then remove it. Postemergence herbicide treatment is another option. It should be done very carefully using a herbicide that contains fluazifop-p-butyl (e.g., Ornamec, Fusilade) that affects only grass species. Preemergence herbicidal control is also an option in early spring before the crabgrass germinates. The University of Rhode Island and Purdue University have further information about crabgrass control. As for your drooping wildflowers, some will form new flower heads if they are cut and some will not. Since we don't know the wildflower species you have growing, we can't tell for certain.

The next question is how to achieve the wildflower meadow you had in mind. There are two articles that can help you with this project. One is "Wildflower Meadow Gardening", a 3-page PDF file that you can download from the Native Plant Library on the Wildflower Center web page. The other is "Five Steps to Successful Prairie Meadow Establishment" from Windstar Wildlife Institute. This article is written by Neil Diboll of Prairie Nursery in Wisconsin. He stresses site preparation and using only perennials. In your plot an ideal mix would be perennial wildflowers with perennial native grasses. One suggestion for your area is to plant a cover crop with your perennials and to keep the plot mowed for the first two years. This will keep the annuals from producing seeds and allow the perennials to get established.
 

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