Webster County IRMV

Landowners Guide to Roadside Management

Wild Flowers
John F. Kennedy Memorial Park
1415 Nelson Ave
Fort Dodge, IA  50501
Phone: 515-576-4258
Fax: 515-574-3763
Email: conservation@webstercountyia.org
Located 5 miles North
of Fort Dodge on highway P56

Hours: 8:00 am – 4:30 pm
  Monday thru Friday

A Landowner’s Guide to Roadside Management

IRVM is a recently developed roadside maintenance program that combines Iowa’s native prairie plants with an old successful technique of pasture management.  Namely, getting a good strong seeding established so weeds can’t move in.  It also included controlling brush, spot spraying weeds, limited mowing, and eliminating roadside disturbances.  Besides emphasizing prairie plants, the IRVM program departs from conventional roadside maintenance by utilizing safe burning techniques to control weeds and boost native plants.

Why use native prairie grasses and flowers?

Native grasses and flowers colonized and dominated Iowa’s soils for 6,000 years.  Planted together they produce a dense root system that no wed can invade.  History has shown us that these native plants do well in dry years and wet ones.  They do just fine on rocky sites and areas of poor soil.  In addition, these grasses and glowers provide valuable food and cover for Iowa’s native wildlife.  It has been shown that ground nesting birds and native songbirds can coexist with road traffic if their habitat is not destroyed.  Overall, there is nothing better for a roadside than our own native prairie grasses and flowers.

Why not blanket spray?

Spraying herbicides affects all plants.  Targeted plants may be killed by selected herbicides, but at the same time most other plants are hurt or “stressed” from the spray.  Blanket spraying with a boom truck leaves the entire roadside in a weakened condition that can result in more weeds, not less.

What is spot spraying?

Using herbicide is still part of the Integrated Roadside program.  But we use just enough herbicide to kill what w e want and it’s only sprayed at the spot it is needed.  Most times two or three applications are needed within one year to really kill a problem weed, such as Canada Thistle.

Should I mow my roadside?

Vehicular safety is of primary importance when dealing with roads and roadsides.  Periodic mowing of roadsides is currently used to control plant height on road shoulders and dangerous intersections.  Extensive roadside mowing has also been used in an attempt to control seeds.  As native grasses and glowers become established in your roadside, the need for mowing problem weeds will be eliminated.  In fact, improper mowing decreases the vigor of native plants, destroys valuable nesting cover for wildlife, and an result in stronger week competition.  Best yet, why not leave roadside mowing to the county road crews.

When can I burn my roadsides?

Just as with using herbicides, burning has positive and negative effects.  Burning native prairie grasses and flowers at the right time can boost plant vigor and recycle important nutrients.  Timely burning does not hurt native plants because of their deep rooting systems.

Burn native grasses and flowers between mid-April and mid-May, when native grasses are about one to three inched high.  Rotational burning will allow adequate vegetative cover for erosion control and retain areas of wildlife habitat.  SPECIAL SAFETY PRECAUTIONS AND EQUIPMENT are needed when burning roadsides.  Be careful of roadside utility poles, telephone junction boxes, and pipelines.  Contact neighbors, utility companies, and your local fir department BEFORE you burn.  For specific information on roadside burn conditions, contact you local county conservation office.

Controlling roadside disturbances

Typically, a roadside disturbance results in existing vegetation dying and allowing bare soil to exist.  The disturbance may be soil deposition from an adjacent field, over spray from herbicides, crops planted in roadside right-of-ways, untimely burning, or dumped refuse.

First be aware of the roadside boundary.  If possible allow a five foot buffer strip between your crop and the roadside.  Apply herbicides so spray drift will not affect roadside vegetation.  Burn roadsides only when safe conditions exist.  If you have a problem with soil erosion or soil deposition in the roadside, contact you local soil conservation office.  They will have several soil conservation ideas to control both wind and water soil erosion.  Government cost-share funds may be available to assist you in the cost of your system. 

Soil conservation systems may include:

  • Contour Strip cropping
  • Terraces
  • Grass Waterways

Roadside wildlife

Iowa was covered with tall prairie grasses long before Native Americans settled the plains.  A diverse and dynamic grassland ecosystem developed with thousands of different plants and animals living in harmony.  Today we have the potential to redevelop that grassland ecosystem in our roadside areas.

Together we can design a roadside management plan that reestablishes the native grasses and flowers and protects them from disturbances.  Ground nesting birds, native songbirds, butterflies, and many other animals will settle in your roadside and call it home.  With you help a valuable piece of Iowa’s lost heritage could be restored for future generations.


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