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Prescribed Fire > RxFire2 > Native Grass > Enhancement > Cost-Share > Ecosystems >  
History of Native Grasses and Piedmont Prairies

Prior to the land practices commonly found today, the piedmont region of the Mid-south had vast acreages occupied by what we now call "prairies" or in some cases "savannas". Though trees have always been a dominant feature throughout our region, the density and species composition have dramitically changed during the last two centuries. Due to repetitive fire, large populations of grazing animals, and other environmental factors- upland forests were once open stands of trees with a grassy/herbaceous understory. Though we may never witness these communities on a landscape scale, restoration of these types of habitats is completely possible for smaller units.
Fort Pickett, VA photo
Benefits of Native Warm Season Grasses (NWSG)

The objectives for planting NWSG are as numerous as there are grass species. Landowners should consider their goals before planting these grasses since varying species compositions and planting rates create different types of stands. Wildlife managers employ these communities to improve many types of early successional habitats. Livestock and hay producers utilizing native grasses have seen productivity gains that are hard to compete with. Land conservancies employ them to restore natural ecosystems. Road construction operations have even experimented and found that these species are excellent in stabilizing roadbanks. At the very basic ecological level, native grasses are highly adapted to our soils and climate. It's no wonder that they often outperform other grasses in terms of growth, drought tolerance, and site adaptability. Perhaps the most overlooked benefit is aesthetics. Piedmont prairies are very visually stimulating, especially in the spring and summer. Hosting a variety of wildflower species, the range of color is sometimes explosive. In autumn, the majority of the grasses go dormant, creating an tawny-amber ocean that moves in the slightest breeze. They can serve as a great addition to nearly any landscape.
 Reintroduction: Establishment and Maintenance

The main enemy to NWSG stands is exotic grasses, especially tall fescue. The propogation of this cool season grass has displaced more wildlife habitat in the Mid-South than any other practice in history. It's favor with the general population has come through it's ability to survive despite heavy grazing and traffic. Control of fescue is required to achieve success when planting native grasses. With the release of Max-Q (endophyte-free variety that is very popular with cattle and horse owners) more people are planting fescue. Due to a lack of information for alternatives and the public's general nature to repeat old methods, exotic grass use continues to eliminate our wild grasslands. Native prairies are both financially cheaper to maintain and more ecologically diverse.
 
Native grasses should be planted at the start of the growing season, typically April through early June in NC. After planting, broadleaf control can be employed on very weedy sites, but normally this is only done if planted for hay or pasture. These stands don't show much above ground foliage the first season, and should generally be left alone until the next summer. Nitrogen fertilizer should be avoided the first year as it will favor weeds and other non-target species.

We have helped dozens of landowners implement native grasses and forbs on their lands.  Whether it's for forage production or ecosystem restoration, there are many ways to make mistakes.  We offer everything from basic site assessments to complete planting implementation services depending on your goals and budget.  If you still consider doing it on your own, check out the following link:
University of Tennessee Extension Publication: A Landowners Guide to Native Warm Season Grasses in the Mid-South
This is a very good publication that is easily printed or saved.