||The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through the Partners for Fish and Wildlife and Coastal Programs and the Natural Resources Conservation Service through the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program, Conservation Reserve Program, and Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program have been collaborating on creating and restoring native warm-season grasslands in New Jersey. In the past five years, more than 640 acres have been planted with warm-season grasses throughout New Jersey. Typical grasses planted include little bluestem (Schizachyrium
scoparium), big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans), Atlantic coastal panicgrass (Panicum amarum), and switchgrass (Panicum virgatum). In addition, a small percentage of wildflowers has also been added to the seed mix including purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), and butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa). The program goals include improving wildlife habitat, water quality, and reducing
erosion near water bodies. Primary wildlife associated with grassland projects are declining grassland nesting birds including bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus), savannah sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis), grasshopper sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum), Henslow’s
sparrow (A. henslowii), Vesper sparrow (Pooecetes gramineus), upland sandpiper (Bartramia longicauda), and sedge wren (Cistothorus platensis). Projects are distributed throughout New Jersey but are typically within the Delaware River drainage. Site preparation depends on the requirements or conditions of the cooperating landowner. Planting after corn or other crop fields provides the best opportunity for establishment since little to no site preparation is required, there usually is a history of weed control, and previous crops have absorbed many of the soil nutrients giving a competitive advantage to native warm-season grasses that thrive in low nutrient soils. In sites where landowners resist the use of herbicides,
require mechanical site preparation (e.g., mowing, tilling, discing), results are mixed with mechanical-only site preparation, and success appears to depend on frequency of mowing to reduce cool-season grass competition during seedling growth of warm-season grasses. Often
these sites need to be mowed three to four times during the establishment year for adequate weed control. Annual weeds and cool-season grasses usually come in very thick in the tilled fields and can outcompete the new warm-season seeding without multiple mowings. Establishment of warm-season grasses at sites with pasture or heavy turf are successful, provided turf grass is initially treated with herbicide (i.e., glyphosate-based product), lightly disced prior to planting, and followed by application of a pre-emergent herbicide (e.g., Plateau). Other factors that affect
site preparation include competition with invasive warm-season grasses (e.g., lovegrass [Eragrostis spp.]), which respond poorly to traditional site preparation. Adjacent areas also may affect site preparation including proximity to salt marsh areas (introducing saline materials to the soils). Soil viability is also a concern. Despite the ability of warm-season grasses to thrive in nutrient-poor soils, establishment within coastal barrier plain sands is still difficult. Planting methods include no-till drill seeding and hand-seeding (for smaller sites). Competition with cool-season grasses before, during, and after planting is a primary concern.
The weather is also a concern, and implementation success has been impacted as a result of drought conditions, especially on droughty sites with coarse, sandy soils. Seed viability, in particular the germination rate, is also a significant factor affecting not only implementation success, but the distribution rate during planting. Seed storage prior to planting will also affect project success, and a dry, cold storage unit is a preferable storage site. Predation may also affect project success, in particular predation by Canada geese (Branta canadensis) (both adults and particularly goslings), which can dramatically affect the success of growing seedlings. Establishment will take time, and most sites are not fully established for at least two to three years. After that time, if positive results have not been achieved, rediscing and replanting a site are an option, and this has produced positive results in at least two projects. Prescribed fire and mowing are the two primary methods of achieving maintenance of grasslands. Prescribed fire is preferable, and warm-season grasses appear to respond positively to
this management method. However, in many parts of New Jersey, prescribed fire is an infrequent option due to proximity to residential and commercial development, air quality concerns, and
state regulations. Mowing is the more frequently practiced maintenance method to control coolseason competition and manage colonizing woody vegetation. Large fields can be split to
provide rotating mowing regimes and increased vertical diversity to wildlife. In addition, vegetative diversity within established grasslands should be encouraged. A variety of forbs and
wildflowers throughout a grassland establishment project support a higher diversity of wildlife including insect pollinators and nontarget wildlife species. However, invasive plants that can
affect long-term success should continue to be monitored (e.g., foxtail [Alopecurus spp.]).