Would you like to have an easy-to-maintain garden in your landscape, one that is inviting to native birds, butterflies, and insects? One possibility is establishing a prairie garden.
There are many benefits to having a prairie garden in your landscape. From a visual standpoint, native grasses and flowering plants can be beautiful additions to any landscape-think prairie roses, pale purple coneflowers or butterfly milkweed. Prairie plants also create vital habitat for native species. Take the Monarch butterfly for example: it's an important native pollinator and relies on milkweed plants for its survival.
After a few years, a backyard prairie can even be easier to maintain than a traditional lawn. There's not much mowing involved, and a prairie doesn't require expensive pesticides or fertilizers.
To preparing the land for your garden, scout out an open space that's clear of other plants and in direct sunlight. Be aware of trees around the space, because their shade can interfere with plant growth. If you have a typical backyard, you'll likely need to kill any grass cover before planting. There are several ways to do this, but a light herbicide treatment to rid the area of non-native plant cover will do.
There are a number of factors to consider when choosing prairie seeds. First, you'll want to figure out what type of soil you have. A dry soil that holds little water will work well for a variety of species, whereas a wetter soil will support a different range of plants. Matching the right seeds with the right soil will better the chance of your prairie's success.
It's also crucial that you plant seeds of locally adapted species. There are many local garden stores that sell native prairie plant species ready for transplant. If you're looking for specific species, call your local garden center or greenhouse to determine their supply and availability. You'll also want to concoct a balanced mix of grasses, sedges, and flowering plants. Pick a variety of plants to create a diverse prairie. Not only will it be more aesthetically pleasing, but the greater the diversity, the more resistant the prairie will be to encroaching invasive species. When it comes to actually buying seed, buy local. Your plants will grow stronger and healthier.
Prairie seeds can be planted year round, but for optimal results, plant sometime between late fall and late winter. Physically planting couldn't be simpler. Scatter the seeds throughout the cleared area and let nature do the work. No need to till the seeds, in fact, burying them too deep decreases their chance of survival. You may need to water your prairie once a week if there's no rain, just as you might water grass.
Especially in the first few years, your prairie will be susceptible to weeds and invasive species. As prairie plants become established, combat the problem by mowing or periodically hand-weeding the area.
Once your plants have become well-established, upkeep and maintenance are minimal. Be patient, as it may take some time (2-4 years) for your native plant community to thrive. But once it does, you will be rewarded with a backyard prairie that is both aesthetically pleasing to the community and ecologically important to pollinators and other critters.
If you want to see a prairie garden here in our local community, check out the Myriad Botanical Gardens. They have an established prairie garden and will be happy to answer questions about it and the plants they have used. Prairie Wind Nursery also carries plants and seeds ideal for a prairie garden.
Consider a prairie garden for a wonderful contribution to our ecology and your landscape.