Native Seed

A pile of bags containing native seed

Native Seed for County and City Rights-of-Way

During most of the 1990s, counties and cities applied for grant money to purchase native seed to plant in their roadsides by applying for Living Roadway Trust Fund grants. However, starting in 1998 the TPC roadside program manager has been able to annually secure a single grant through the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to purchase a large quantity of seed (around 1,000–1,300 acres worth) and provide it to counties that request seed. In 2021, cities also became eligible to receive seed through this grant. Counties and cities receive the seed for free but provide the labor and equipment to plant and maintain the seed as an in-kind contribution. 

This large purchase has lowered the cost of seed per acre and has freed up more LRTF funds for other requests. The FHWA grant program has gone through several iterations: Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act, Transportation Enhancements, and Transportation Alternatives Program. It is currently called the Transportation Alternatives Set-Aside Program; a program manager in the Iowa DOT’s Systems Planning Bureau manages applications and grants for Iowa’s share of the Transportation Alternatives funds.

Every fall the TPC program manager emails seed request forms to the counties and cities that have an approved IRVM plan on file, counties and cities that anticipate completing an approved IRVM plan by June 1 of the following year and engineers and county conservation board directors in counties without a program (to ensure they are aware of the native seed as a benefit to having a program). Counties and cities estimate how much seed they will pick up the following spring. They have until December 31 of the year after picking up the seed, or a little over 1.5 years, to plant all of the seed that is picked up.

When counties and cities complete their seed requests, they must provide the location information for any sites that will be drilled or mechanically broadcast seeded using equipment that could cause rutting greater than six inches. Because there are Indigenous burial sites in some roadsides, the DOT archaeologist must coordinate with Tribal nations to determine if ground-disturbing activities might disturb burial sites or other cultural resources. Sites that will be hydroseeded or broadcast seeded using lighter equipment that do not disturb the soil do not have to be reviewed for cultural resources.

Counties may request a diversity mix (35–45 species) or a cleanout mix (20–30 species); both are suited to most roadside situations. The more inexpensive cleanout mixes are used more often in sites that are prone to silting in from adjacent farmland, which may require the county to periodically excavate the plugged-in ditch and reseed the area. The availability of these mixes means counties and cities might purchase directly from commercial seed vendors only when they wish to supplement the mixes or when a unique mix is desired for a special project.