Southeastern Sites Planting Guide

These sites include regions within the Carolinas, southern Virginia, Georgia and Florida. Sites in the Southeast typically have sandy or clay-rich soils subject to drought. These characteristics necessitate careful attention to timing and preparation. Examples include Coastal Plain soils, Piedmont and sandy soils or mountain areas. Please also references the Uplands, Meadows & Pollinators Planting Guide.


Southeastern sites have a longer growing season; therefore, plants native or adapted to the region should be selected; planting from November to March is ideal when possible, as temperature is adequate and rain events are frequent; if irrigation is available, planting can continue into the later months of spring and early summer.


With the exception of organic matter, natural fertility is generally adequate. Check your soil pH and, if necessary, add lime to achieve a pH of at least 6.0.


Drill seeding is recommended; however, broadcast seeding is an alternative preceded by rolling or tracking.


If your site was previously a lawn or crop field to which herbicides were applied, it is important that you allow the appropriate interval for the residues of those herbicides to break down prior to planting, as some herbicide residues can prevent seedling germination.

Competition from invasive or undesirable vegetation is the most limiting factor in upland meadow preparation. Prior to planting, all such vegetation must be fully controlled. Typical control strategies include repeated tilling, smothering with black plastic or multiple herbicide applications.

When using the tillage strategy, a site is disc harrowed every two to four weeks for a one to two-month period. The underlying premise of this process is that the root system of perennial species will be worn out to the point of killing the species. In addition, tillage will stimulate germination of dormant weed seed which will be killed by subsequent tillage. Planting should not occur until perennial species are fully killed.

Black plastic may also be used to kill weeds. It may be laid across tilled or untilled soil and anchored down by burying the edges in soil or laying boards or bricks across the surface. This protocol should be utilized during a growing season where the intent is to fall plant in the same year or spring plant the following year.

The application of an approved herbicide, such as glyphosate (Roundup® or Rodeo®), is the most common and least time-intensive protocol for controlling existing vegetation. Herbicides are most effective on actively growing plant tissues; therefore, they are very effective on new growth in the spring. Spraying should begin when growth is approximately 6” high. One to two weeks later, a follow-up application of spray may be made to address skips or persistent species. If substantial plant tissues remain on the surface following a full kill by herbicides, a close mowing, tillage or burning may be necessary to achieve good seed-to-soil contact.

To achieve full control or prevent re-infestation of some weed species, the use of an appropriate selective herbicide may be necessary in conjunction with a seed mix tolerant of that herbicide.

Sandy Soils

Sandy soils behave differently under cultivation than those containing clays. It is essential to plant seed 1/2” deep into a firm seedbed with a seed drill if possible (Eastern Gamagrass should be planted 1” deep). Truax and other similar drills can accommodate a variety of seeds and have proven to be effective in the Southeast. High sand content in the soil makes broadcasting seed less effective due to poor seed-to-soil contact. Seedbeds should be firmed to where one does not sink past the sole of his shoe when walking the prepared site. Soil amendments may be added as necessary to maintain proper levels of organic matter and achieve a pH of at least 6.0.

Clay-Rich Soils

Without topsoil, soils containing high clay levels can be as hard as brick and pose a formidable challenge to successful cultivation. These soils are extremely low in organic matter which allows the small clay particles to settle and become compacted after a rain event. This soil is often iron rich, leading to a distinctive red color. To prevent the clay form hardening after a rain to the point where seedlings cannot emerge, increase organic matter to at least 1% by incorporating well-decomposed organic matter or compost. It must be worked into the top-most soil prior to planting using a tiller, harrow, disc or similar implement. Cultivating the top 6”-8” of soil will aid in root development of emergent seedlings and allow some percolation of rainwater that would otherwise run off the surface with little to no infiltration, most likely carrying the seed away with it. These initial preparations are critical to the successful establishment of native plants in this challenging soil. Since soil compaction is minimized, drilling seed 1/4”-1/2” deep is the preferred method of planting. Even with the addition of organic matter, this clay-rich soil will compact easily; therefore, operating heavy equipment over the planted site should be avoided.


General Maintenance

When spot spraying, begin with lower than recommended concentrations of herbicides for weed control to avoid burning a valued crop when working in soils with low organic and high sand levels. The chemical breakdown of many herbicides is achieved via soil microbes that generally feed off organic material. With less organic material available in the soil, there will be a smaller population of microbes that may result in longer periods of exposure to the active ingredients in herbicides.

Please also refer to the maintenance section of the Uplands, Meadows & Pollinators Planting Guide.

Common southern species, Muhlenbergia capillaris (Hairawn Muhly) is a decorative grass used in meadows, along roadways and woodland margins.
A stand of Monarda punctata (Dotted Mint) will draw a myriad of pollinators including the endangered Karner Blue Butterfly.
This southern meadow features a combination of Andropogon (Bluestem) species.
Sorghastrum nutans (Indiangrass) is a highly versatile warm season grass, useful as a forage for livestock, attractive in landscapes and provides habitat for birds, butterflies and other wildlife.

DISCLAIMER: The information in this review of practices is the result of more than 50 years of experience in seed production. Ernst Conservation Seeds has been supplying seeds and consulting in the reseeding of tens of thousands of acres of roadsides, surfacemined lands, conservation and restoration sites in eastern North America, as well as growing and supplying seed and consulting in the planting of hundreds of thousands of acres of CRP/CREP-related areas for erosion control and wildlife habitat. All of these practices are opinion only and our best advice as a result of these experiences. These recommendations do not cover all of the conditions that will be encountered in the field. All of the information is for individual consideration. Ernst Conservation Seeds is not responsible for conditions that will be encountered in individual situations. The use of brand names does not represent our endorsement of a specific product; rather, it represents our experience only and has not necessarily been replicated in peer-reviewed research. The use of chemical pest control agents is subject to manufacturers’ instructions and labeling, as well as federal, state and local regulations.

Southeastern Sites Seed Mixes

The following mixes are used in full sun with well-drained soils and provide food and/or cover for wildlife. Meadow and wildflower mixes provide food for insects, including native pollinators.

Southeast Annual & Perennial Wildflower Mix

Item #: ERNMX-169 Cost: $53.82/Lb
Categories: ,
Description: The native and non-native wildflowers establish quickly and have a 2-3 year lifespan; wildlife and pollinator value. Mix formulations are subject to change without notice depending on the availability of existing and new products. While the formula may change, the guiding philosophy and function of ()

Southeastern U.S. Roadside Native Mix

Item #: ERNMX-187 Cost: $40.47/Lb
Categories: ,
Description: The showy native grasses and forbs have a long-lasting natural appearance. Mix formulations are subject to change without notice depending on the availability of existing and new products. While the formula may change, the guiding philosophy and function of the mix will not. ()

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