Burn warm-season grass stands to benefit native wildflowers and quail-brooding cover
As always, check with your local Missouri Department of Conservation office to determine if weather conditions are appropriate for burning. Burning should not be attempted in areas of Missouri which are still experiencing drought conditions .
Do you find your warm season grasses have overtaken your native wildflowers? Now is a great time to prepare for next year’s summer beauty as well as next year's brooding cover for upland birds. As you walk around your favorite private land hunting spots or your farm, take a look at the old fields, CRP fields and woodlands. Is the grass getting a little too thick for you to walk through? Do you find yourself struggling through grass or heading towards the edge of a food plot or crop field for an easier walk?
If you answered yes, now is the time to set back the rank stand of grass for to stimulate next year's wildflower show and brooding cover. If left undisturbed, these fields will not provide brooding cover next year.
Remember, 40 to 60 percent of a quail's home range should be in a grassy/weedy stage with lots of bare ground, better known as brooding cover. The remaining should be in nesting (10 to 30 percent) and shrubby cover (10 to 20 percent). Ideally, these habitat components should be scattered throughout the home range.
Unfortunately, many landowners don't begin habitat work until late winter or early spring. Any management is better than none, but this year consider doing a little habitat work before Christmas. Consider burning a portion of your rank CRP grass fields or old fields in late November or early December. Don't burn more than 10 to 20 percent of your grassland or old field acres. You don't want to remove too much cover during the fall or winter. You shouldn't burn it all at once either. Small, 5- to 20-acre burns are a good size for a winter burn. By burning this time of the year, you will expose the plant crowns and surface roots to Mother Nature’s cold weather. This will set back your grasses while giving your wildflowers a chance to express themselves the following spring and summer.
You may lose a day or two of hunting when conducting late fall or early winter burns on rank warm-season grass stands, but these results are so much better than spring burns. Plus, you can comeback in the spring and strip-disk the field or over seed forbs in the winter. It is much easier and less stressful to spread out your prescribed burning "to-do list" throughout the year, often starting in August and ending in April.