About sarie

Sarie grew up on a tiny sliver of land and sandy prairie called French Island near La Crosse, WI between the Mississippi and Black Rivers. She spent many happy times exploring the sandy prairies surrounding her neighborhood woods amongst the Birdsfoot and Woodland Violets, picking them for Mom (they never did last longer than a few hours… and learned it was a no-no to pick them..) A vocal musician by education (Soprano, singing with the Festival Choir of Madison for 25 years), she found her way to the Westfield area by marrying a music teacher/organic gardener husband with 50 acres of oak savannah in which to roam. The incredible diversity of wildflowers in her own back yard amazed her, including many species growing in the pure beach sand such as Butterflyweed, Rough Blazingstar, Roundhead Bushclover and many others. After a trip to Prairie Nursery, Sarie magically found herself learning at the feet of prairie guru Neil Diboll, (not exactly feet, but across the hall at least). In the almost 12 years at Prairie Nursery, Sarie enjoys speaking with her customers and finds she learns something new each day sharing the benefits of establishing prairie landscapes.

Goldenrod! Achoo! Gesundheit! Myth Busting

When I was growing up, after sneezing, my German-American Father would say Gesundheit! (meaning health in German).  I sneeze frequently this time of year, thanks to allergies.  You can ask my co-workers; I have the loudest sneeze in the office (thanks to my vocal training perhaps…)  Needless to say there are many shouts of Gesundheit in our office this time of year!

Goldenrod pollen causes our allergies??

Showy Goldenrod-Solidago speciosa

Many lay the blame for our end of summer allergies on the ubiquitous masses of golden hued Canada goldenrod popping up everywhere in the landscape this time of year.  The clouds of pollen in the air…sort of like “pollen smog”..causing the sneezing, snuffling and runny noses…. must be the fault of the Goldenrod, right?  WRONG!  The Culprit?  Ragweed!

I feel like I need an image of this plant in a striped jumpsuit holding a number…yeah, a “mug shot” of this plant….so here you are..concrete evidence and the culprit is..Ragweed!

Ragweed!

There it was, lurking…hardly noticed next to the beautiful bright yellowness of the goldenrod, the typical annual Ragweed popping up in the disturbed soils along the roadway.  This rather nondescript, raggedy looking plant, often, adjacent to their showy Asteracae family cousins.  Ragweed-which is wind pollinated, is happily pouring out the pollen in their quest to pollinate in their brief life in summer.. and when they do…achoo!  Little did we know…(my nose is itching as I type this) that our allergy woes could be blamed on Ragweed. And to think that for many years Goldenrod has taken the fall.

The Truth:

Goldenrod pollen does not travel in the air at all.  Its pollen must travel on the tiny feet of insects and bees.  My stand of Showy Goldenrod was just covered in bumblebees the other day, collecting pollen on their wings and feet in the last September sunshine.  Bees gather up the pollen to fly off to their hives; the pollen does not fly in the air as Ragweed and many plants.

Canada Goldenrod-Solidago canadensis (which we do not sell!!) is a most prolific (and invasive) native plant, that we work hard to eliminate from our prairies and gardens.  There are dozens of well behaved native Goldenrods that we do offer, which provide color well into October, including Ohio Goldenrod-Solidago ohioensis, Showy Goldenrod-Solidago speciosa and Stiff Goldenrod-Solidago rigida that are happy in full sun.  Delicate shade loving specimens including Zig Zag Goldenrod-Solidago flexicaulis, Anise Scented Goldenrod-Solidago odora add a splash of color in a woodland garden.  Goldenrods provide an invaluable shot of late season nectar and pollen for bees, butterflies including:

  • Monarch
  • Clouded sulphur
  • American small copper
  • Gray hairstreak
  • Some butterfly larvae deposited on goldenrod forms a gall that Woodpeckers feast on the insect in the center of the gall providing valuable protein for the birds in winter.

Revelation!  A new light can now be shed on the beauty and value of native well-behaved Goldenrods in our gardens and prairies. We can be grateful that the Goldenrod plants in our gardens are not contributing to our allergies but providing valuable habitat for butterflies, pollinators and birds.  I for one am going to be working on eliminating Ragweed from along the road in front of our farm, and working at planting our No Mow Lawn seed and more native goldenrod.  I can now say Gesundheit to friends that sneeze and then proclaim “plant more goldenrod in good health”!

Growing in the Right Direction

I field calls from customers all over the US, from Maine to New Mexico, Florida to Washington State. A growing number of customers are new to native landscaping. Many call asking for a specific plant, and often they are looking for alternatives to non-native plants or cultivars of native plants.

Lately there seems to be a run on calls for Pampas Grass and Karl Forester Grass, two commonly used Asian grasses that landscape professionals often specify for commercial and residential landscapes. A good alternative to these invasive non-natives is Indiangrass-Sorghastrum nutans.  My goal with customers is to steer them to native alternatives, and explain the benefits that native plants provide. I like to use what I call the “restaurant analogy”:  You happen upon this wonderful new restaurant, it has a beautiful setting, pretty signage, a great menu cover, but the restaurant is closed…no food. A pretty plastic mold of the food in the window, but nothing to eat! This is how pollinators, butterflies and birds experience some non-native plants. The packaging (of Pampas or Karl Forester Grass) is slick, sophisticated and appealing, but inside it’s empty and has little to no value.

Birds love native plants

Prairie Nursery was founded in the late 1970’s. The number of native plant nurseries has grown over the years as we have come to understand the real threat that development, invasive species, changing landscapes, and now climate change, have on native wildflowers, grasses, sedges and other flora in North America.

So, why go native? As far as Prairie Nursery is concerned the question is, why not? There are so many arguments for promoting and preserving native plants. Neil Diboll, our President presents the argument with the 4 “E’s”.

Esthetics

  • Native plants are beautiful. While we busied ourselves with plowing up our prairies a hundred years ago, the English were planting our native wildflowers in their gardens!
  • Natives offer four seasons of interest in the landscape. Trees and shrubs offer flowers and foliage in spring and summer, and bark, berries, and needles in winter. Prairie flowers provide color all summer, and prairie grasses show off their golds and crimsons all winter.
  • Native plants attract a wide variety of exciting wildlife, especially songbirds and butterflies. These welcome visitors add vibrant life to a landscape in every season of the year.

Ecology

  • Native plants are adapted to the growing conditions of their region. Over the millennia, they have adapted to the extremes of summer heat, drought, and winter cold.
  • Native plants form the foundation of a food chain that supports insects and other invertebrates, which feed the birds, small mammals, and a variety of other creatures. Pesticides should be avoided – they kill beneficial insects and disrupt a natural ecological balance.
  • Native plantings that are matched to prevailing soil and light conditions make soil fertilization unnecessary.
  • Irrigation is not required for native plants to thrive (except under severe drought conditions). Even under extreme conditions, most native plants have specific adaptive strategies that help them survive the tough times.
  • Deep-rooted prairie flowers and grasses infiltrate rainwater which recharges the groundwater and reduces runoff and flooding. Contrast this to the the high percentage of rainfall run-off from lawns that fills storm sewers and adds to flooding and ground water depletion.
  • Native plants create unsurpassed habitat for wildlife. Recent investigations indicate that native wildflowers attract up to three times as many different species of pollinators compared to non-native plants.

Energy

  • Traditional lawns consume large amounts of energy, including gasoline for lawnmowers, petroleum to make herbicides, and energy to mine and fabricate fertilizers. Grass clippings and leaves are often carted off in a truck to be land-filled or composted elsewhere.
  • Native landscapes require little energy input once established. Prairies and wet meadows require only semi-annual burning or mowing. Native woodlands rely on “Nature’s fertilizer” in the form of autumn leaves to provide time-released nutrients.  No need to rake!

Economics

  • The low maintenance requirements for a native landscape saves a bundle in upkeep! Economics alone can be an excellent reason to “Go Native!”
  • No need to buy fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, or other chemicals.
  • No need to pay to install an irrigation system, much less to operate and maintain it.
  • No need to mow a native landscape or hire someone to do it.
  • Reduce equipment repairs on mowers, blowers, and other loud obnoxious machines.
  • Native plants save you time! Who wants to mow the lawn when you can smell the flowers instead?

A native landscape is the personification of the web of life. It begins with us: The survival of native North American vegetation depends upon our dedication to spreading the word and passing on the legacy of these amazing plants to future generations. In our ever changing world, a native landscape brings us back to our “roots” if you will. As a Native American proverb says:

Treat the earth well.
It was not given to you by your parents,
it was loaned to you by your children.
We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors,
we borrow it from our Children.

hummingbird at milkweed

Sedges Have the Edge

If you are looking for a lower growing alternative to native grasses in your landscape, sedges can provide an edge!

There are nearly 1,500 sedge species in North America.  Sedges come from the vast Cyperaceae family of monocoetyledonous graminoid flowering plants.

Fox Sedge-Carex vulpinoidea

Fox Sedge-Carex vulpinoidea

The Carex branch of the sedge family typically have a leaf set that has “edges”, the shape of the leaves are triangular, solid stems with the leaves arranged in three ranks.  When you hold a sedge leaf, it has sharp edges.  This compares to grasses which have alternate leaves in two ranks that are smooth to the touch.  Ecologists when determining the identity of a grass like plant have a saying “sedges have edges”.

Sedges inhabit wet areas, some forming colonies in “tussock” marshes, distinguished by the mounds created by Tussock Sedge.  Sedge meadows are a complex ecosystem that harbor a great many forbs, including Joe Pye Weed-Eupatorium maculatum, Blue Flag Iris-Iris versicolor, Angelica, Red Milkweed-Asclepias incarnata, Great Blue Lobelia-Lobelia siphilitica, and Bergamot-Monarda fistulosa, accompanied by rush species such as Dark Green Bullrush-Scirpus atrovirens, Woolgrass-Scirpus cyperinus, Rushes and grasses that can include Canada Bluejoint grass-Calamagrostis canadensis.

In Wisconsin we are blessed with many wetlands inhabited by sedges including the vast Necedah National Wildlife Refuge and the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge.  At the Necedah refuge core studies by the University of Wisconsin have shown that the peat and muck at the bottom of the sedge meadow show a record of plant material that was dated to be 11,000 years old!  Amazing!  According to Necedah’s website: “The open wetlands, meadows and sedge meadows provide habitat for wildlife including bog-haunter dragonfly, golden-winged warbler, whooping crane, and American bittern.”  A link to the Necedah Wildlife Refuge-A great place to visit if you are visiting Wisconsin:

http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Necedah/wildlife_and_habitat/index.html

In landscaping, sedges are an important component in rain gardens.  We use Carex vulpinoidea-Fox Sedge in our rain garden packages and seed mixes.  Fox Sedge can tolerate standing water for a week, but can also withstand long stretches of hot dry soil.  This summer during our drought Neil Diboll, Prairie Nursery owner, observed that the Fox Sedge on his property was robust and beautiful even under extreme drought conditions.  The beautiful star shaped seed heads that appear on sedges are attractive, and the foliage stays green throughout the summer.  Paired with the Fox Sedge, we offer Palm Sedge-Carex muskingumensis.  Like the Fox Sedge, Palm Sedge tolerates wet or dry soils, loves clay and provides unique foliage in full to part sun.

There are exceptions to wetland dwelling sedges that can be excellent additions to a landscape.  Ivory Sedge-Carex eburnea, is a dry site specialist that needs very little soil to grow.  Growing only 11 inches tall, Ivory Sedge grows naturally in limestone rocks in partial shade, and is extremely drought tolerant-staying green all summer long.  Pennsylvania Sedge-Carex pensylvanica is fine-textured groundcover; creeping by rhizomes; this sedge forms a unique “lawn-like” appearance that will grow in shade to part sun.  Plantain Leaved Sedge-Carex plantaginea is quite unusual with wide leaves that shine almost neon-lime green in part sun to shade, living in alkaline soils, even in rocky limestone and dolomite rocks!

Often under utilized, sedges provide a unique texture paired with shade and sun loving wildflowers and grasses.  Sedges green up earlier than other prairie grasses, so they are a nice spot of green alongside spring bloomers such as Prairie Spiderwort-Tradescantia bracteata, Lanceleaf Coreopsis-Coreposis lanceolata, Wild Geranium-Geranium maculatum, Wild Bleeding Heart-Dicentra exima and Columbine-Aquilegia canadensis.  In low moist areas, try the Palm Sedge with Bottle Gentian-Gentiana andrewsii, Boneset-Eupatorium perfoliatum, Common Bluestar-Amsonia tabernaemontana and Marsh Phlox-Phlox glaberrima.  Don’t forget their use in rain gardens helping to slow rain water and filter the moisture slowly into the soil improving soil quality and attracting a multitude of beneficial insects and birds that will enjoy the seed. Give sedges a try in your landscape!