Creating a Shallow Water Wetland

Making It Happen
Creating a Shallow Water Wetland in Parma Heights, Ohio

Jim Wohl has always loved nature and the outdoors. A long time ago his dream of becoming a Forester was set aside when his immediate life needs won out over the lack of available jobs in Forestry. Eight years ago, shortly after retiring, his discovery of Prairie Nursery added inspiration to his natural enthusiasm for the
environment and he went to work creating his own backyard wildlife garden. There he experienced the transformation that native plants could bring to an environment.

Diving In. The desire to make a contribution to the health of the environment – that person who wanted to be a Forester – was still part of Jim’s calling. Sitting in the Valley Forge High School courtyard after an alumni meeting, Jim watched a mother duck and her babies drink from a plastic pool. “The ducks are already here,” he thought, “why not a wetland?” He shared the idea with the high school biology teacher, who said he’d always wanted to do that but didn’t know where to start. Jim knew.

There were times when he thought that the project would never happen, but he stuck with it. Tenacity is one of Jim’s stand-out qualities. A year after starting the project he finally got the ‘go-ahead’ from the school board. “I’m not a giver-upper, I just want to make things happen.”

Bringing it to the Community. Building the Valley Forge High wetland took the cooperation of many people – the School Board, Health Board, Sewer Association, plumbers & biologists. At the project’s beginning, a series of phone calls to the Cleveland Metro Parks led Jim to Terry Greathouse – at the time an assistant professor of biology at Cuyahoga Community College. Terry turned out to be an invaluable resource as a project consultant and contributor.

The shallow wetland was a labor of love and the project’s reach extended deep into the community. During construction Jim and Terry were on site everyday from 7am to 6pm. Valley Forge High School students helped when they could. Terry’s students from the Community College participated and gained points in their biology class. This was a big project and Jim wanted the world to know – plus, he needed funding to purchase plants. Local news sources reported on the project, and the Mayor and fire department also pitched in.

Today, the shallow wetland located in the high school courtyard is certified “Wildlife Habitat” by the National Wildlife Federation. The habitat area benefits ducks, 10 varieties of dragonflies, songbirds, hawks, herons, turtles, toads, frogs, butterflies, bees as well as the school’s students. The flora and fauna are the subject matter of inspired art class assignments; chemistry classes check water quality; and biology students study the plants and wetland ecosystems.

“These projects are not easy to make happen,” Jim says, “but anything is possible if you really want it to happen. Step up and let’s make a difference in this world of ours.”


Gardening for Monarchs

The northward spring migration of Monarch Butterflies from their wintering grounds in Mexico is well underway. By this time they are crossing Texas and Florida and hopefully moving into the lower Midwest.

In 2013 the Monarch population was reported to have declined to it’s lowest level, ever. Increasing losses in both Mexico and the US has put the survival of Monarch Butterfly in a perilous position. The American Midwest is a critical feeding and breeding ground in the life cycle of Monarchs, and the rapid expansion of farmland – more than 25 million acres since 2007 ­– has eaten away at the habitat and native plants that support them. The over-winter habitat in the forests of Mexico are also disappearing:

What Can We Do?

1. Plant Asclepias (Milkweed) plants. Plants of the Asclepias genus, such as Milkweed and Butterflyweed, are the only plants on which Monarchs lay their eggs, as a host plant for their caterpillar stage. Asclepias (Milkweed) Plants:
Butterflyweed for Clay
Sullivant’s Milkweed
Red Milkweed
Common Milkweed

2. Provide Nectaring Plants. Monarchs need nectar during their adult phase. Provide enough nectar sources so that you have blooms throughout the season, and each generation of monarchs has a food source. Fall-blooming asters fuel their fall migration to Mexico. Here’s a list of some favorite nectaring plants for Monarchs. Or, take a look at our Pre-planned Monarch Habitat Gardens…
New England Aster
Purple Coneflower
Pale Purple Coneflower
Prairie Blazingstar
Dense Blazingstar
Smooth Penstemon
Ohio Goldenrod
Stiff Goldenrod
Meadow Blazingstar
Smooth Aster
Rough Blazingstar
Scaly Blazingstar
Downy Phlox
Showy Goldenrod
Joe Pye Weed
Tall Joe Pye Weed
Queen of the Prairie
Marsh Phlox
Tall Ironweed
Wild Blue Phlox

3. Build Awareness through Certification Programs. Many good Monarch programs exist that help build awareness, spread the word, share information and educate the public about the decline of the Monarchs.

 4. Learn More, Raise Monarchs, Get Involved: Additional great resources, educational materials, tracking and research, and citizen science.




Great Native Plant Combos

To highlight a few of the new offerings in our 2014 catalog we’ve designed the following plant combos especially for visual impact. The plants in each of these combinations enjoy the same environments, bloom around the same time, and create harmonious color and texture in the garden. Create your own plantings using the Plantfinder tool to pinpoint the natives best suited to your location, that will bloom in sync or in sequence.

Goat’s Beard can become fairly large and bushy. In the garden it’s often planted in the background border. A wide-ranging native plant of moist, fertile woods it grows best in partial to full shade in a medium to wet soil.

Above combo:
Goat’s Beard –  Blue False IndigoCommon BluestarAnemone Canadensis
Combine Goat’s Beard with Blue False Indigo for a beautiful flowering pair in the back border. Add Common Bluestar to the semi-shade mix (or Wild Blue Phlox). Plant Canada Anemone in front or for ground cover.

Above combo:
Goats Beard –  Golden AlexandersSensitive FernIndian Pink
Combine Goats Beard with Golden Alexanders and/or Indian Pink using Sensitive Fern to tie it all together.

Red Beebalm combines well with so many other plants. Take your pick. Native to the Appalachian Mountains, Monarda didyma is a pollinator favorite.

Above combo:
Red Beebalm –  Purple ConeflowerWhite False Indigo

Above combo:
Red Beebalm –  Brown Eyed SusanPrairie Blazingstar

And yet another:
Red Beebalm –  Mist FlowerCulver’s Root

Spigelia marilandica looks delicate and intricate, but don’t be fooled, this is one tough plant. Indian Pink looks great with a fine-textured fern or sedge. Native to the south-central and southeastern U.S. it is a favorite of butterflies and hummingbirds.

Above combo:
Indian Pink –  Lady FernVirginia Bluebells

The low-growing native Wintergreen is often found growing next to Lowbush Blueberry in the woods. Interplant this famous combo with Wild Strawberry for a completely edible low-growing trio. Add Plantain Leafed Sedge to fill-in and enhance the late-season colors!

Wintergreen –  Lowbush BlueberryWild StrawberryPlantain Leaved Sedge

A native of woodland edges, Bottle Gentian combines well sedges in the dappled shade.

Bottle Gentian –  Virgins Bower (vine)Long Beaked SedgeObedient Plant

The possibilities are endless. Let us know your standard favorite or your newest creation!

Preparation and Patience

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
― Benjamin Franklin

I would have loved to live in the time when a vast section of North Americawas covered in prairie.  My paternal ancestors came to North America from Alsace Lorraine in 1743. They settled in New York, and a few family members moved to Darke County Ohio.  This Far Western Ohio County is considered to be part of the “Southern till prairie region”.  Ohio areas of prairie were surrounded by savannah and acres upon acres of trees in the central and eastern part of the state.  In the early 19th century I can imagine my ancestors may have encountered stands of tall grasses that had yet to be turned under by the settlers’ plows.

Life Under the Cliffs

Much of the prairie that extended from southern Canada west to the shadow of the Rockies, east to Ohio and south to Mexico was lost to settlement, farming and development as the gradual industrialization destroyed what was considered to be the most impressive, diverse grassland encountered on our planet.

Prairie located in Southern Wisconsin

Today, many wish to reclaim a piece of this epic grassland through seeding native species.  Our attempts to re-create the prairie and restore the legacy of these amazing plants ranges from multi-acre restorations to small backyard seed mixes.

The main pre-requisite required is patience.

Ah, yes, Patience, a word unfamiliar to many Americans.  You know who you are, yes, those of us who have little patience for a webpage that takes longer than 5 seconds to load, or a download that takes longer than a few minutes.  How on earth can we wait 3-4 years for a prairie to mature, not to mention the time it takes to prepare the site?!!

Prairies creep, they crawl and then they leap!


The prospect of establishing a prairie can be compared to building a new home.  We start with the foundation, and then we carefully construct the frame and top it with a well fabricated roof. The steps we take ensure a solid construction, a well-built structure that will stand for many years.  This is the best comparison I can offer when it comes to successful prairie establishment.

First, Choose the right plants!

In order to be successful in creating a prairie it is very important to plant only those species that are adapted to the site conditions.  Since you will not be providing much assistance in the form of irrigating, fertilizing, or pest control, the plants cannot depend on you to help them to overcome problems that may arise if they are mis-matched to their site.  Although gardeners often hope that they can “will a plant to grow” on a site where it does not belong, this usually results in wasted effort and ultimately, disappointment when the plant does not thrive.  The most important rule in low maintenance landscaping is to select only those plants that are ecologically adapted to a given site.

Prairie Nursery offers many seed mix options to match your site’s soil conditions.

How do we begin?  Prepare.

Careful preparation is the first and most important step towards a successful prairie establishment.  This is a critical step that if overlooked, can lead to disaster in short order.

To prepare your site for planting, we must first remove the existing vegetation, which may consist of perennial weeds, annual weeds, or both.  Existing weeds will compete with prairie seeds for nutrients, moisture and sunlight.  Although it is nearly impossible to remove all annual weed seeds from the seed bank stored in the soil, it is crucial to kill and/or remove perennial weeds and rhizomes before planting.  Perennial weeds such as Quackgrass,Bromegrass,CanadaThistle, Canada Goldenrod and Red Clover can inhibit the growth and development of your prairie.

Eliminating all perennial weeds prior to seeding is essential to success with your prairie.  Site preparation options may vary according to the vegetation type that you are converting to a prairie planting and include the methods we describe in our Prairie Establishment Guide.  

Common mistakes made when beginning a new prairie:

Planting on new construction site/newly graded or disturbed soils.  This practice is risky.  All of that lovely newly graded or introduced topsoil is appealing and often it’s easy to think, why, yes, all that beautifully graded topsoil?  It’s ready to plant, right?  Yes, from a traditional landscaping perspective (i.e. turf), the site is ready to plant.  From our experience, not exactly.  This is the point that we wave one big yellow caution flag. All soils harbor billions of weed seeds (we are a mere blip on the timeline of earth compared to all the plants that happily lived on the site that flowered and produced seed).  Planting first without allowing the site to reveal its secrets (good and bad-usually bad; really bad invasive plants such as Canada Goldenrod and Canada thistle).  Unidentified, these weeds will compete strongly with the slow growing native plants.  Take the time to prepare the site.

Take shortcuts.  The only instance when we can attempt a “quick” site preparation is if we are converting a well manicured lawn (read, all perennial weeds have been chemically controlled in a lawn for years, i.e. golf course or your neighbor’s Chemically treated lawn).  All other sites require time, usually a full growing season to attempt to remove as many weeds as possible.

Simply scatter the seed out to the four winds….without preparing the site carefully.  Although tempting, just simply throwing the seed onto your existing lawn or old field is risky and not recommended.  The established vegetation will usually provide stiff competition for the slow growing native perennials.

I want everything to bloom the first year after planting the seed. Rapid results with flowers blooming in the first year are not possible with a seeded prairie.  I would suggest our pre-planned gardens using live nursery grown plants.  We offer over a dozen professionally designed gardens.

With a combination of preparation and patience your efforts will be rewarded !