Habitat How-To


prairie planting 1Congratulations! You have decided you want to help monarchs by planting monarch habitat. You have found the right place to help you begin your Iowa planting. Here are the steps:

  1. Find local support
  2. Site Selection
  3. Site Preparation
  4. Planting
  5. Management

Local Support

Establishing monarch habitat takes time. Identifying and connecting with a knowledgeable local conservation contact will be invaluable in implementing your project. A local conservation contact who has experience establishing diverse native prairie will be able to guide you through the process of establishment and maintenance, helping you understand how factors such as current vegetation, soil type, and project goals will influence your project. Find local contacts in your county. You should ask about incentive and cost-share programs in your area that may be available to you. Not all areas qualify; be sure to estimate your potential savings of reduced mowing or other management costs for the area. Farm Bill Program opportunities are summarized here.Iowa County monarch planting contact map

Not in Iowa? Visit the Farmers for Monarchs site here for resources in your area. 

Looking for garden project resources? Blank Park Zoo’s Plant.Grow.Fly. program has resources compiled to help you begin.

Site Preparation

A successful prairie planting will reward you with  a beautiful low management system, ecosystem services, and wildlife diversity. The most important step to ensure success is site preparation. High weed pressure can make it almost impossible for new seedlings to establish so it is essential to reduce the weed population as much as possible prior to planting. The most successful plantings are often those that follow corn/soybean cropping systems as these systems have very few weeds.

Any herbicide used after planting will harm the new planting.

Your local contact will have suggestions for site preparation based on the current vegetation.

Useful Tools to Consider

USDA NRCS “Planting Native Prairie into Cool Season Sod” includes detailed recommendations for converting grasslands to pollinator habitat. Although not mentioned in this publication; do note that it is ideal to convert the area to herbicide resistant corn/soybean crops for 2-3 years in order to earn a profit during the preparation stage, as well as greatly reduce the weed potential at the site.


A number of decisions need to be made in relation to planning, from seed selection and purchase to planting timing. The differing sizes of seed make it challenging to evenly distribute the species throughout the planting, and it is essential that the seed not be planted deeper than ¼ inch deep. Work with your local contact to make these decisions, and be sure to choose a seed dealer that sells seed that was grown in and is native to your state. 

Seed Mix ResourcesIowa State Seed Mix

Iowa State University Seed Mix: High diversity monarch seed mix that meets requirements for a wide range of farm bill conservation programs in Iowa while providing a wide variety of blooming species for pollinators (not just monarchs) from spring through fall. Bloom timing and suitable soil conditions for plant species are clearly presented in this resource.

Iowa Pheasants Forever Native Seed Program: Seed mix options. Work with local contact or contact Pheasants Forever to select appropriate seed mix.

Tallgrass Prairie Center Seed Mix Generator: Select general environmental factors and customize the seeding rate; specific species cannot be selected.

Planting Resources

Plant Iowa Native: Plant Iowa Native is an initiative of the Tallgrass Prairie Center at the University of Northern Iowa, which provides a list of professional services you may need, such as local seed producers.

USDA NRCS “Planting Native Prairie into Corn or Soybean Stubble:” learn how to convert a cropped area into a prairie planting.

USDA NRCS “Planting Native Prairie into Cool Season Sod:” learn how to convert a non native cool season grassland into a prairie planting.

Prairie Moon Nursery: “Pros and Cons to Fall versus Spring Seeding”

Tallgrass Prairie Center Prairie Reconstruction: “How To” video series  

USDA NRCS: Seed Calculator: Work with your local contact to determine the seeding rate needed for the species you choose. To find the calculator on this page:

  1. Select your state.
  2. Select your county.
  3. In the navigation along the left, select “Section IV” from the dropdown menu.
  4. Click Tools.
  5. Click Native Sedding Calculator, which represents Native Seeding Calculator

prairie planting 2Management

Management is essential to establishment success. Regular mowing (3 to 4 times) during the first growing season prevents weeds from shading out seedlings and prevents the weeds from going to seed. With a successful planting, future years provide the opportunity for much less maintenance with just an occasional disturbance to encourage desirable species. Long term maintenance must include a residue removal practice approximately every 3 years such as prescribed fire (ideal) or haying in order to limit grass dominance and prevent tree establishment.

USDA NRCS “Establishing and Managing Native Prairie:” Outline of maintenance recommendations for the first few years of a planting

Prairie Moon Nursery: “How to Burn a Prairie

Monarch Joint Venture: Mowing Best Practices for Monarchs. Once the planting is established (3+ years old), mowing is discouraged in pollinator plantings and if utilized, should only be for the purpose of weed seed reduction in select areas. These mowing guidelines should be used for areas which contain a mix of native and non-native plants, not pollinator planting projects where native vegetation has been established.

USDA NRCS BMPs for Monarchs: Best Management Practices for Monarch Butterfly: Achieving Best Results for the Monarch in the Midwest. Includes details on grazing, herbicide use, mowing and haying, and tillage. Correction: burning more than once every 4 years is acceptable and likely beneficial.