Control of Exotic Annual Grasses to Restore Native Forbs in Abandoned Agricultural Land


E B. Allen, email


Exotic annual grasses are a major challenge to successful restoration in temperate and Mediterranean climates. Experiments to restore abandoned agricultural fields from exotic grassland to coastal sage scrub habitat were conducted over two years in southern California, U.S.A. Grass control methods were tested in 5 m2 plots using soil and vegetation treatments seeded with a mix of natives. The treatments compared grass-specific herbicide, mowing, and black plastic winter solarization with disking and a control. In year two, herbicide and mowing treatments were repeated on the first-year plots, plus new control and solarization plots were added. Treatments were evaluated using percent cover, richness and biomass of native and exotic plants. Disking alone reduced exotic grasses, but solarization was the most effective control in both years even without soil sterilization, and produced the highest cover of natives. Native richness was greatest in solarization and herbicide plots. Herbicide application reduced exotics and increased natives more than disking or mowing, but produced higher exotic forb biomass than solarization in the second year. Mowing reduced grass biomass and cover in both years, but did not improve native establishment more than disking. Solarization was the most effective restoration method, but grass-specific herbicide may be a valuable addition or alternative. Solarization using black plastic could improve restoration in regions with cool, wet summers or winter growing seasons by managing exotic seedbanks prior to seeding. While solarization may be impractical at very large scales, it will be useful for rapid establishment of annual assemblages on small scales.