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 !