In December, I updated you on how perennial wildflowers and grasses were establishing in our beneficial insect habitat plots during the 2019 growing season. As I wrote that post, I quickly realized that there was too much good information for just one post. So here’s the rest of the story when it comes to plant establishment – time, money, and weeds.
Before I get started, below is a quick reminder of what our treatments were. You can read all the details here.
|A||Spring transplant, no mulch|
|B||Spring transplant with mulch|
|C||Spring direct seed|
|D||Buckwheat cover crop, then fall transplant|
|E – control||Whatever was growing there, just keep it mowed|
|F||Soil solarization, then fall direct seed|
|G||Herbicide and tillage, then fall direct seed|
One thing that has surprised me about this project (although others certainly gave me fair warning) was how big a role weed management plays in establishing habitat for beneficial insects. It’s definitely still a struggle in our plots.
Bryan Brown did weed assessments for us in May and September of 2019. The graph below shows the average percent of the area of each plot covered by either weeds (orange) or beneficial habitat flowers and grasses (blue).
This was before we did any hand-weeding. By far, the plots that were mulched in Spring 2018 (treatment B) had the fewest weeds compared to beneficial habitat plants. You’ll also notice that in May there were still relatively few weeds in the plots where we tried to deplete the weed seed bank in the soil through solarization (treatment F) or repeated herbicide and tillage (treatment G).
By September 2019, the spring transplant treatments looked even better. Our wildflowers grew well during 2019 (with the help of some extra hand weeding). The plants we transplanted in Fall 2018 are still struggling and not nearly as large as the wildflowers in treatments A and B. I think this may have more to do with the weed competition they experienced that first fall (when we couldn’t plant for a few weeks after the buckwheat was mowed) than transplant timing. Hopefully they will catch up.
There are still a lot of weeds in the direct-seeded treatments (C, F, or G). Remember that our weed management strategy in these plots is repeated mowing to control annual weeds. Over time, the perennial wildflowers and grasses should take over. But it’s not supposed to be a quick method.
Most of the treatments we are comparing required much less work in their second year (2019) than in their first (2018). The exception is that we spent a lot more time hand weeding treatment D (buckwheat cover crop followed by fall transplanting) in 2019. Although we weeded the two spring transplanted plots the same number of times in 2019 (twice), it took longer to hand weed the plots without mulch. I’m not surprised. If you’re looking for the right establishment method for your project, you really need to ask yourself how much help you have available and when. If you can get a lot of people excited about helping you install the planting, but worry about getting consistent volunteers year after year, mulch may be the right choice for you. In the direct seeded treatments (C – spring; F – fall following solarization; G – fall following herbicide and tillage), the time input for 2019 was mowing, which was relatively quick. And we did just a little hand weeding of perennial weeds.
Nearly all of our costs were incurred in the first year of the project (2018). The only additional costs from 2019 were for gas to run the mower. We did replace a few plants in transplanted plots in Fall 2019, but we used some extra plants we had purchased in 2018. Below is the total cost of the plants and other supplies for each treatment. Transplanting will always be more expensive than direct seeding.
You may remember that we were also collecting insects. I promise I will write more about the insects we caught in another post. If you are tired of looking at snow and bare trees outside, you can see pictures of some of the insects we caught in my post from August 2019.
This post was written by Amara Dunn. All pictures were taken by her, unless otherwise credited.