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Native weeds are an excellent duck food and Pennsylvania smartweed sits arguably at the top of any ducks menu. Species such as Pennsylvania smartweed (Polygonum pensylvanicum) will grow on soils of any drainage class except those that are droughty, don’t need fertilizing, and are easy to manage.
In its natural state Pennsylvania smartweed tends to grow on freshwater mudflats, and areas that are moderately brackish. If you are considering planting smartweed, or have natural stands of smartweed that attract ducks the following plan will certainly benefit not only yourself, but also the smartweed and the ducks you attract.
Cultivating Pennsylvania smartweed from seed is a straightforward process and unless you have several acres to plant, broadcasting by hand will suffice.
- Plant after the last killing frost in the spring.
- You’ll need a seedbed in mudflats, a recently drained pond, or drawdown area that is free of competitive weeds – some preparation may be necessary.
- Broadcast the seed at a rate of 10-15 pounds per acre on the wet soil and cover with soil to a depth between 1/8 of an inch to 1 inch.
- Some people plant the seed later in the season to ensure that seed maturity coincides when the ducks and other migrating water fowl arrive.
Management of Pennsylvania smartweed can be broken down into four seasonal steps.
- Winter – leave the water in your pond and let the plants lie dormant.
- Spring – drain your pond in early spring prior to bud break and then burn the area as soon as possible to remove dead growth. To save the seed from scorching this should be a quick burn. Finally, lightly disc the seedbed. Don’t use a harrow as this may damage the seed. We further recommend that you DO NOT use weed killers.
- Summer – Water your smartweed during drought periods and, if necessary, flood briefly after the plants are at least 6” high. The inundation should last 2 days at the most. If you have cattle, let them graze lightly in the area. Cattle find smartweed somewhat unpalatable and eat competing grasses first. Remove the cattle following the reduction of the competitive grasses.
- Fall – prepare for the arrival of the ducks by filling your pond three to four weeks prior to the ducks arrival.