Crown vetch, etc.

Asked March 15, 2018, 5:19 PM EDT

Hello, I live in Burnsville and have a wooded lot in our backyard. We have about a 1/2 acre of wooded area behind our house. We've had trees removed and buckthorn. The buckthorn has been cut and sprayed (in the fall) and we are finally looking at a very nice, clear space. We would like to plant seed to offer a beautiful prairie of grasses, crown vetch, flowered perennials, etc. We would like to find something that is hardy, easy to grow, and hopefully will help block the buckthorn from emerging again. We also want something that is cost effective. Any recommendations are greatly appreciated including where to find seed, when to plant, easiest way to plant, etc.

Dakota County Minnesota planting dates horticulture native plants for wooded lot establishing native plants

1 Response

Thank you for the question. Establishing a prairie depends on open land with minimal competition from weeds. You got a good start by removing trees and buckthorn last year, however, buckthorn and other weed seedlings will emerge for some years to come from the seed bank in the soil and you will need to be vigilant in removing them in order to give prairie seed or plants a chance to establish. A combination of grasses and flowering plants is ideal but do not plant crown vetch. Crown vetch is on the Minnesota restricted noxious weed list and shouldn't be planted due to its invasive, aggressive nature. It will quickly outgrow your other desired plants and smother them. Read more about why crown vetch is to be avoided here:

Without knowing your site's sun exposure and soil type, it's difficult to give specific guidelines but this publication lists many options for the different soil types: http://www.extension.umn.edu/garden/yard-garden/landscaping/plants-in-prairie-communities/. At the end of the publication, the plants are described and establishment from seed, plant, or both, are identified. Minnesota has a wonderful website of native wildflowers. You can look up photos of plants you might be interested in once you narrow down those appropriate for your site. https://www.minnesotawildflowers.info/

Seed is less expensive than plants but seed will take 2-5 years to establish vs. 1-3 years for plants. There are many sources for both at the end of this publication: https://www.extension.umn.edu/garden/yard-garden/landscaping/establishing-and-maintaining-a-prairie-garden/ It is true that a native prairie, once established, will require little maintenance but for the first several years, you will need to water during weeks when we don't get an inch of rain, and you will have to battle weeds continually. The effort put forth in the early years will pay off later.
The best time to plant is after the last freeze and before the heat of the summer hits, usually mid-end of May.

Thank you for contacting Extension.