A Year of Liberty Prairie Scenes

Liberty Prairie photo essay by my husband, Steve Cepa. The entire year is chronicled on the Bull Creek website including additional prairie or wild life photos.

 

Little Blue

File:4th Place - Coyote in Little Bluestem in Red Hills (7469132472).jpg

Coyote in Little Bluestem in Red Hills
by Greg Kramos

“A child said, what is the grass? Fetching it to me with full hands; how could I answer the child?. . . .I do not know what it is any more than he. I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven.”

–Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

NCDC USA Drought Map
by Richard Heim

Rain, rain, rain. We’ve had rain on several days the past few months but the Earth is still thirsty! The National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) released September through December’s Palmer Z drought index numbers and 52% of the upper Midwest, Plains, and Western half of the United States are still experiencing drought conditions. Despite the lack of moisture this season, Little bluestem, Schizachyrium scoparium, a native perennial bunchgrass, thrived.

A plant’s metabolism is partially responsible for its survival during extreme weather conditions. Perennial grasses can be classified as either C3 or C4 plants. Classification as a C3 or C4 plant is determined by the metabolic or biochemical pathway the plant uses to capture carbon dioxide during photosynthesis. While the C3 pathway is present in all grass species, the additional C4 pathway evolved in species adapting to very wet or dry habitats. 

The C3 and C4 metabolic pathways are very different from one another. Each pathway is associated with a plant’s growing requirements. Little bluestem is a warm season, sun-loving, short grass species with preference for mesic to dry growing conditions and a C4 metabolism. Much like the weather of 2012, extremely dry growing conditions were experienced during the Great Drought of the 1930s. In 1932, Weaver and Fitzpatrick noted that Schizachyrium scoparium was more drought tolerant than some other prairie grass species found in the plains of North America. More recently, Hake conducted physiological field studies confirming the species-specific drought tolerance of Little bluestem. 

Little bluestem

Little bluestem (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Global climate change has brought about conditions of drought, high temperatures, and increased levels of nitrogen and carbon dioxide providing C4 plants, like Little bluestem, with a distinct advantage over those possessing the C3 metabolic pathway. In spite of its toughness, Little bluestem’s clumped foliage is delicate and beautiful. Slender, erect, blue-green stems or culms appear in August and reach 2-3 ft. tall by September. The alternate, 1/4 inch wide and 10 in. long leaves are located on the lower part of each culm. In late fall, the culms and leaves turn a rusty-red color and are topped with white tufts of shining seeds. 

Spikelet

Spikelet

The tufts of shining white seeds or spikelets form on 1 1/4 to 3 in. stalks or racemes the end of each culm. Several pairs of spikelets occur on opposite sides of the raceme’s central stem. Between the central stem of each spikelet, long white hairs are produced. Two pairs of spikelets are produced; a sessile, fertile spikelet and a sterile spikelet. The fertile spikelet is about 1/4 in. in length and the sterile spikelet is 1/8 in. in length. Each fertile spikelet produces a single elongated grain. The floret’s anthers are brown to reddish brown and the stigmas are pale purple in color. 

Below the ground, Little bluestem possesses a dense and fibrous root system. Reaching 5 to 8 ft. in depth, the predominantly vertical roots provide both erosion control and protection from drought. Little bluestem has a symbiotic relationship with the fungus, arbuscular mycorrhizae, which improves its supply of water and nutrients. In return, Little bluestem transfers 20% of its plant fixed carbon to the fungus. In light of its erosion control and drought tolerance characteristics, Little bluestem is often used in conjunction with other C4 grasses for prairie restorations and revegetation of abandoned cultivated lands. 

Little bluestem in winter

Little bluestem in winter

An adaptable grass, Little bluestem thrives a wide range of soils and tolerates  harsh growing conditions but prefers neutral to slightly basic sites with deep, shallow, sandy, fine-textured and rocky soils that are characteristically medium to dry, well-drained, and infertile. The plant thrives in full sun but will tolerate light shade. Little bluestem readily seeds itself. Caution should be exercised when planting it in small areas with ideal growing conditions since reseeding can result in Little bluestem becoming the dominate species in the garden. 

Growing conditions, including climate and soil type, have an effect on the geographical distribution of a grass. The Little bluestem range extends throughout all of the lower 48 states except Nevada and are most prominent in the Great Plains and open canopy of the eastern United States. More state specific plant locations can be found on the USDA’s Schizachyrium scoparium distribution map. Common throughout Illinois, Little bluestem’s native habitats include hill, gravel, sand, loam, and clay prairies, scrubby barrens, rocky slopes of thinly wooded bluffs, sandy savannas, hilltop glades, dunes, gravel railroad right of ways, and abandoned fields. 

Little bluestem’s vast geographic distribution also plays an important role in various ecosystems throughout North America. It is the food source and/or cover for songbirds, upland game birds, ground birds, mammals, and insects. During the winter in Illinois, Little bluestem seeds are favored by the Field Sparrow, Tree Sparrow, Slate-Colored Junco, and other small songbirds. Other Illinois avian inhabitants such as the Prairie Chicken, Sharp Tailed Grouse and the quail use the foliage of Little bluestem as nesting material or cover. The foliage of Little bluestem found in Illinois is quite palatable to bison, cattle, White Tailed Deer, and other mammalian herbivores. Ecologists have identified an invaluable relationship between the Little bluestem and insects. Insects are abundant in prairies, providing an ample food source for others higher up in the food chain, birds in particular. Little bluestem’s leaves are the food source for butterflies, skippers, grasshoppers, spittlebugs, leafhoppers, thrips, and beetles. In Illinois, the native grass provides nutrients for Atrytonopsis hiannaHesperia leonardusHesperia meteaHesperia ottoeHesperia sassacusNastra lherminierPolites origenes, numerous grasshopper species,  Prosapia ignipectusFlexamia delongiLaevicephalus unicoloratusIllinothrips rossi, and Aniostena nigrita.

Commonly found in prairies across North America, the ornamental, native bunchgrass, Little bluestem, plays an important role in ecological restorations. Not only does it provide a food source for many native fauna species, it is also a drought resistant native grass, particularly suited for survival in our changing environment. Weather extremes are the new norm throughout the world. This phenomena seems to be born out in an unseasonably warm and dry year in Illinois. Our winter this year has also been warm and dry. In fact, the 2012 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Climatic Data Center recently stated that the recent year’s weather “…is consistent with what we would expect in a warming world.” Clearly environmental adaptations are necessary for ecosystems to remain sustainable in a warming world. This report will require all gardeners, even native gardeners, and prairie restorationists will need to adapt their plant selections to accommodate the climate change. I plan to do my part to help create a more sustainable landscape by planting a few more Little bluestems in my garden!

Related articles

Resources:

Coucher, T., “Little Bluestem: Schizachyrium scoparium.” Field Guides, eoL: Encyclopedia of Life Learning, Harvard Univerity. N.D. Web. 11 Nov. 2012.

Maricle, Brian R. and Adler, Peter B., “Effects on precipitation and photosynthesis and water potential in Andropogon gerardii and Schizachyrium scoparium in a southern mixed grass prairie.” Environmental and Experimental Botany. 16 Mar. 2011 Web. 12 Dec. 2012.

Schizachyrium scoparium (Mich.) Nash.” Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. University Texas at Austin. N.D. Web. 12 Sep. 2012.

Hake, D. R. etal.,”Water stress of tallgrass prairie plants in central Oklahoma.” J Range Management, Mar. 1984. Web. 2 Oct. 2012.

Hilty, John. “Little Bluestem.” Illinois Wildflowers. N.P. 2002. Web 10 Nov. 2012.

Steinberg, Peter D. ” Schizahyrium scoparium.” Fire Effects Information System, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory. 2002. Web. 24 Jan. 2013.

” Plants Profile, Natural Resources Conservation Service, United States Department of Agriculture. 2002. Web. 1 Jun. 2012.

“State of the Climate Drought Annual 2012.” National Climatic Data Center, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 1 Jan. 2013. Web. 19 Jan. 2013.

Weaver, J. E. and Albertson, F. W., “Effects of the Great Drought on the Prairies of Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas”  Agronomy Faculty Publications. 1 Oct. 1936 Web. 1 Sept. 2012.

Weaver, J. E. and Fitzpatrick, T. J., “Ecology and relative importance of the dominants of the tallgrass prairie.”  Botanical Gazette. 1 Apr. 1932 Web. 1 Oct. 2012.

“What are C3 and C4 native grass Species?” NSW Government, Department of Primary Industries: Agriculture.  N.D. Web 1 Nov. 2012 .

Tend the Soil

To forget how to dig the earth and to tend the soil is to forget ourselves.

– Mohandas K. Gandhi

By definition, restoration ecology is the process of improving degraded land through the removal of invasive species and improving soil conditions to create a stable, bio-diverse ecosystem. In the previous post, Restoration in ProgressI cited Glass’ post, Thoughts on Restoration Management, where he suggests restorers tackle the underlying cause(s) for the habitat’s invasive species by tending to the soil. Tending and understanding the soil in a restoration area requires a soil analysis.

The primary factors affecting plant growth in a restoration garden are 1) soil conditions, 2) sunlight, and 3) site slope. Evaluations of all three factors are essential in the creation of a viable restoration plan. Within each of these primary factors, there are subcategories. A soil’s texture and drainage, structure, pH, and nutrient levels are the four factors that comprise its soil conditions.

 A soil’s texture and drainage falls into one of four categories, sandy, loam, clay, or organic. In the field, soil texture can be determined using the Feel Test. The Feel Test is accomplished by rubbing the moist soil between the thumb and fingers several times. The test requires that the experimenter determine whether the soil holds together when moistened, as well as describe the soil’s texture.

Sand as identified by the Feel Test has course particles that will not stick together, even when moist and feels gritty. Soil that falls under the Sand heading is made up of large mineral and organic particles. This course textured soil is typically of poor quality, well-drained, dry, acidic, and low in nutrients and water-holding capacity. Only Shortgrass prairie plant species will thrive under such arid conditions. Prairie Moon Nursery has put together a prairie seed mix for this type of soil, one having sandy texture and fast drainage.

Loam as defined by the Feel Test forms clods and feels like flour when it is dry. When moist, the loam feels silky and easily sticks together. It is a medium textured, rich soil that has good water holding capacity and good drainage. Loam soils provide an excellent medium for growing a variety of native trees, shrubs, flowers, and grasses.

Clay as characterized by the Feel Test feels slick and smooth, lacking a gritty texture due to its small, smooth particles. When clay is wet, it can be shaped into the form of a ball because of its high water holding capacity. However, when a silt component is present in the soil mixture, some clay may feel floury. Clay is a heavy soil type that tends to have poor drainage and air movement but is usually quite fertile.

Organic soil as classified through the Feel Test feels spongy and has a fibrous texture. Organic soils exhibit a very distinctive odor and color. Decaying vegetation and other organic matter are responsible for the soil’s odor and color. Organic soils contain a high proportion of muck or peat, which occur naturally in wet areas like swamps, bogs, and marshes. Due to its fibrous nature, the soil holds large amounts of water and nutrients. Even when drained, the soil can still hold water like a sponge. However, once dried, the soil can be difficult to “re-wet.”

Sand, silt, clay, organic matter, minerals, air and water particles are the primary building blocks of soil. Soil structure is the arrangement or combination of soil particles into porous compounds called aggregates. Pores and cracks separate the aggregates. The soil’s overall structure is determined by the aggregates shape, which in turn affects water and air movement through soil. Air, water, and humus are necessary components of a soil that is to sustain life and perform other vital soil functions. The four basic aggregate shapes include granular, blocky, prismatic, and platy structure. Granular soil structure arrangement, the structure of choice, provides adequate water flow, which promotes seed germination. Soil structure, unlike texture, is not permanent. Cultivation practices such as plowing and tilling can help the gardener obtain a granular topsoil structure in the beds.

Another alterable soil condition is pH. The acidity or alkalinity of soil is measured in pH units. In chemistry, as well as in other applications, pH is defined as the negative logarithm of the hydrogen ion concentration. The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14. The neutral point of the pH scale is pH 7. As the amount of hydrogen ions in the soil increases, the soil pH decreases becoming more acidic. Soil is increasingly more acidic from pH 7 to 0 and more alkaline or basic from pH 7 to 14. Soil pH, a critical soil condition variable, controls many chemical processes that take place between the earth and plants.

Plants need soil nutrients in order to thrive. Soil pH controls decomposition activity by nitrogen producing soil microorganisms in addition to regulating nutrient availability by controlling a mineral’s chemical form within the soil. The optimum pH range is between 6 and 7 for most plants. Soil pH that is either too acidic or too alkaline, is not conducive to nutrient transfer therefore, the soil nutrients remain undissolved and are not absorbable by the plant. Optimal soil pH levels provide nutrient rich soil that produces not only faster growing plants, but ones that are more pest and disease resistant. Adjustment to the soil’s pH is necessary when the pH level is greater than a plants’ preferred range. Guidelines for adjusting soil pH can be found here. Keep in mind, changing the pH depends on a number of factors including current pH level, your soil’s texture, and the material you are using to amend the soil.

All restoration sites must have a minimum threshold level of nutrients for vegetation to establish and become self-sustaining. Seventeen essential plant nutrients are required self-sustaining growth. The three most important nutrients, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium can be restored by treating the project site with a variety of treatments, including topsoil, mulch, compost, as well as organic or commercial fertilizer.

Most native plant species prefer soil conditions with limited nitrogen availability, whereas, invasive species thrive in soils with increased fertility (Morgan 1994). Site soil analysis will help the prairie restorationist decide what repairs are required. The goal of soil repair is to make the soil ideally suited for native plants and undesirable for invasive species growth. Ultimately, knowledge of the site’s soil texture, composition, drainage, acidity, and mineral density, will help prevent the disappointing restoration results that can occur when a site’s soil is inappropriate for a native plant garden.

How to Take a Soil Sample

Step 1: Obtain representative soil samples from the site areas where plants are to be grown. The soil should not be overly dry or wet. Each test area should be representative of a region’s unique growing characteristics, which may include soil type, drainage, slopes, and/or sunlight conditions.

Step 2: Take a garden trowel and go down 6 to 8 inches, in a garden area measuring 3 ft. by 3 ft. In plots greater than 10 ft. by 10ft., featuring the same growing characteristics, multiple soil samples from 6 to 10 different areas of the garden should be collected. These soil samples should be mixed together in a large ziploc bag and labeled for easy identification.

Step 3: Empty an area’s bagged and tagged soil contents into a clean container. Remove the plant debris and mix the soil together, crushing any lumps larger than pea size.

Step 4: Spread the soil out on a sheet of paper and let it dry overnight.

Step 5: Obtain a Mosser Lee Soil Master or another soil testing kit from your local garden center. (Sending soil samples to a local University extension office for evaluation is an alternative to do it yourself soil testing kits.)

Step 6: Run the pH, Nutrient, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium tests on the soil samples. Obtain and record the test results on the Mosser Lee record sheet. Check the Mosser Lee’s vegetation pH and nutrient reference guide for species-specific nutrient and pH preferences. For more detailed information regarding the appropriate soil remediation recommendations, contact a nursery professional, or garden Cooperative Extension Service with the site’s soil testing results.

Resources

Brouwer, C., Goffeau A. and Heibloem M. Introduction to Irrigation, International Institute for Land Reclamation and Improvement. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 1985 Web. 28 Mar. 2012.

Curtis, Peter. Restoration Ecology, Peter Curtis Group. Ohio State University. N.D. Web. 23 Mar. 2012.

Diaboll, Neil. “Step By Step Site Analysis Procedures for Developing a Native Landscape Plan.” Prairie Nursery, The Productivity Source, LLC., 2012 Web. 24 Mar 2012.

Dunne, Niall. ed. Get To Know Your Soil. Landscape For Life: based on the principles of the sustainable site initiative. Brooklyn Botanic Garden N.D. Web. 25 Mar. 2012.

Morgan, J. P. Soil Impoverishment: A little-known technique holds potential for establishing prairie. Restoration and Management Notes 12 :55-56.1994.

“When Good Soil Is Bad.” Wildtype: design, native plants, & seeds, ltd. N.P. 2011 Web. 26 Mar. 2012.

“Understanding Your Soil.” Prairie Nursery, The Productivity Source, LLC., 2012 Web. 24 Mar 2012.


A Jump Start to Spring

Little Bluestem Seed

Sideoat Grama Seed

Purple Coneflower Seed

Winter here in northern Illinois has been unusually mild, resulting in a faster than normal beat to the rhythm of spring. Daffodils, one of the early indicators of spring, have begun to break through the soils surface. Gardening catalogs and Bluebirds announce spring’s arrival, too. Each of the previously mentioned occurrences suggest that the time has also come to start preparing some native plant seeds for germination!

In nature, spring’s rising soil temperatures and increased daylight wake dormant seeds from their winter slumber. When native forb, sedge and grass seeds are started indoors, unique stratification and germination requirements are required to break the seed’s dormancy. With a little research on each seed species, prior to planting, one can artificially break its dormancy and successfully grow most native plants from seed indoors. Species specific methods of stratification described by Prairie Moon Nursery in an earlier post entitled, “Lady Aster” is linked here for your convenience. However, some of the easier methods for breaking seed dormancy are described below:

DRY, COLD STRATIFICATION: (mimics volunteer seeding)

  • Store the seeds in an airtight container in a cold, dry refrigerator at a temperature of between 33-40 degrees Fahrenheit; and
  •  in response to warmer temperatures the sown seeds should begin to germinate.

COLD, MOIST STRATIFICATION (mimics over-wintering):

  • Combine equal parts sand and perlite or vermiculite and moisten the mixture with 1/2 part water;
  • add seeds to the mixture, place in a labeled, sealable polyethylene bag;
  • place the bag in the refrigerator (33-38 F) NOT the freezer for cold storage;
  •  3-18 weeks of cold storage time is needed to break dormancy, however, the time may vary from, depending on the species;
  • at the end of prescribed stratification period, sow the whole batch of seeds immediately into their final planting site or into individual planting containers 2/3 filled with a good quality potting mix;
  • lightly cover the stratified material with potting soil, pressing the top layer down to remove all the air space, and moisten the soil surface;
  • for potted plants, cover the container with plastic to promote germination; and
  • continue to water the seedlings as necessary until the plants have 2-3 true leaves. Once the true leaves are present, the seedlings are ready for transplantation.

HOT WATER TREATMENT (mimics passage through a stomach or heat from a fire):

  • In a non-aluminum pan bring un-softened water to a boil, remove the pan from the heat and let the water cool for 1-2 minutes;
  • place the seeds into a bowl and pour the hot water over the seeds;
  • allow the seeds to soak and come to room temperature for 24 hours; and
  • plant or cold, moist stratify the seeds if needed by the plant species.

SCARIFICATION (mimics passage through a stomach):

  • This stratification method is good for species that produce a berry or a pulp-covered seed. The objective is to abrade seed coats, a process that can be accomplished by rubbing the seeds between two sheets of medium grit sandpaper;
  •  seed that will be sown directly outdoors in the fall or winter should not be scarified in order to prevent premature germination and winter kill; and
  • plant or cold, moist stratify if needed.

These methods of stratification replicate the process native plant seeds undergo to break their dormancy. When mimicking nature’s stratification steps as closely as possible, gardeners are afforded the best possible germination rate for their native seeds. Now is the time to start your native plant garden by ordering seeds from a native plant nursery within 90 miles of your home or ecotype region and begin stratifying them for germination!

Resources

“Germination Instruction for Seeds,” prairiemoon.com. Prairie Moon Nursery, 2012 Web. Feb.18 2012.

Hansen, Jeff, “Growing Native Plants From Seed,” KansasNativePlant.com. Kansas Native Plants, 13 Sept. 2011 Web. 19 Feb. 2012.

Phillips, Harry R., Growing and Propagating Wild Flowers, An easy-to-use guide for all gardeners, The University of North Carolina Press, 1985.

Winter Habitats

Goldfinch Photo by Doug Greenberg on Flickr

We’ve had our first snow here in Northern Illinois. While many people love cold weather other dread it, nevertheless, we all us seek refuge from it in the warmth of our homes. Fauna are also forced to find places in their habitat to keep them protected from the weather. Prairie landscapes provide not only shelter but also food  and nesting sources for the winter creatures.

Once the feeders are empty, birds forage on their own to find food in their habitats. There are many native trees, shrubs, grasses and forbs that provide nourishment for the birds with their fruits, berries, or seeds in the fall and winter months. Below is a brief list of some native flora and the food source the provide as well as the fauna that they feed.

 Common Plant Name

Food source

Nesting (N) or Shelter source (S) or (GS)

Attracted Fauna

Black-eyed Susan

Seed

American Goldfinches, chickadees, nut hatches, sparrows, towhees
Blazing star

Seed

Finches and sparrows
Prairie coreopsis

Seed

Goldenrod

Seed

Plant= insect (S)

finches, pine siskins, yellow-rumped warblers, indigo buntings
Joe-pye weed

Seed

Fluff=bird (N)

chickadees, wrens, titmice and juncos
New England Aster

Seed

Leaves= bird (N)
Purple cone flowers

Seed

American Goldfinches, pine siskin
Wild columbine

Seed

sparrows
Wild Geranium

Seed

Mourning dove and bobwhites
Big blue stem

Seed

Plant

Plant=birds & waterfowl (S) Insects (S)

Plant = deer forage

Seed=Songbirds

Plant=Deer and small mammal

Little blue stem

Seed

Plant= birds (GS)

Songbirds, upland game birds, small mammals
Side oats grama

Seed

Plant

Plant=bird (S)

Seed=Songbirds and small mammals

Plant=Deer

Switchgrass

Seed

Plant = bird & small mammal (GS N)

Seed=Songbirds and small mammals
Buttonbush

Fruit

Seeds

Plant=Bird (N) Fruit=WaterfowlSeed=Insects, beaver, muskrat
Nannyberry

Fruit

Plant=Bird (N) Gray catbird, common flicker, American Robin, eastern bluebird, cedar waxwing
For humans, prairie plantings add visual interest to the winter landscape. Even the smallest prairie gardens can make a difference in whether small creatures survive winter, whereas larger restorations support the wintering of a greater number of fauna. These plants and animals and chose this habitat as their home and we should try to save or restore it. As a bonus for our efforts, we get to enjoy their company, along with the diverse landscape in which they inhabit. So this spring, as you are planning your garden, plant with a purpose!

Fall Planting: No Mow Grass

I’m just like everybody else in suburbia; I like the lush, green look of a manicured and chemically supported lawn, but hate the time consuming up keep. After spending several, sweltering hours cutting our one-acre lawn I decided there had to be a greener way to achieve the optimum suburban lawn. As if through some divine sign, later that night, while thumbing through the Prairie Nursery catalog, dreaming of fall planting, I came across No-Mow grass seed.

Prairie Nursery’s No-Mow grass was billed as the “ecological alternative to a traditional high maintenance lawn.” When I read the following growing characteristics:

  • requires little water and maintenance once established;
  • forms a dense sod that chokes out weed growth;
  • fertilization or herbicides are not required for optimum performance; and
  • grows in locations with full to partial sun
I was sold on No-Mow grass. Gung ho and ready to join the grass roots, suburban, No-Mow movement I was now in search of a test plot on my own parcel of land. An experimentalist by heart and training, I finally decided after some background research on incorporating the No-Mow as part of our prairie/riparian restoration plan.

Part of our prairie restoration plan included the installation of a three- foot wide walking path and potential firebreak through the prairie garden. I was convinced after reading about No-Mow’s attributes that the grass would provide the perfect ground cover for the path between the native plant plots. Not only was this ground cover alternative naturally permeable, but it required no maintenance! One additional, potential benefit was that No-Mow might also to survive a controlled prairie burn, a method of prairie restoration maintenance. It was time to start planting.

The optimum planting season for No-Mow is fall, between the end of August and the end of October. I ordered my seed and anxiously awaited its arrival. As I waited, I worked on preparing the seedbed using the methods outlined in a previous post titled, Invasives BegonePrairie Nursery’s fall planting instructions suggested that tilling of the seedbed was unnecessary. Despite their recommendation, I turned and raked the soil by hand while awaiting the No-mow’s seed arrival.

Before Invasive Removal

Down to Bare Soil

Fortunately, for me, Illinois’ weather remained unseasonably warm through the end of October because that is when I finally got around to sowing my No-mow grass seed. I broadcast the seed by hand, liberally covering the soil. Next, I gently hand raked the soil to cover the seed with earth. After covering the broadcasted seeds, I proceeded to lightly, overseed the top of the planting area via the “Johnny Appleseed” method. Finally, I walked repeatedly over my newly seed path to firmly implant the seed into the soil.

I watered daily and waited. Approximately ten glorious days later, I began to see a green haze above the surface of the soil. Mission accomplished seed germination was successful! Once germination was complete, I reduced my watering tasks to a biweekly event and enjoyed the continued growth of my tiny No-Mow seedlings. I’m now well on my way to establishing a low maintenance green path in our prairie restoration project.

No-Mow Seedlings

No-Mow Path

Crimson Switch Grass

Who knew that Switch Grass, Panicum Virgatum, a perennialturns a brillant crimson color in the fall! These grasses are absolutely gorgeous against the browns and ambers which predominate the fall prairie tones.  Started from seed and planted as seedlings, these one year old plants were installed to stabilize a hillside. Switch Grass is commonly used to prevent soil erosion because its deep fibrous root system extends into the soil to a depth of ten feet. A comparative root depth diagram can be seen on Minnesota’s DNR web page. Deep soil penetration of the Switch Grasses’ root system acts as a natural herbicide by blocking weed growth, as well as, increases the soil’s fertility, permeability, and organic material!

Switch Grass

Switch Grass is of fairly hardy stock, tolerant of prairie soil conditions ranging from moist to dry. The grass requires full sun to part shade for optimum growth. This tufted grass, a native of North America and a dominant species of the Tall Grass Prairie, grows to about 36 inches tall and 20 inches in diameter with seed heads reaching to a height of five feet. The Switch Grasses’ large size and upright growth also provides wildlife protection and nesting sites. The attributes of this native plant help to sustain the prairie habitat. Both man and nature can reap ecological benefits by planting a few Switch Grass plants here and there.


Hello World its Fall!

The rhythm of the seasons are upon us as fall makes its way to Illinois.  The Prairie Dropseed have begun to take on a russet hue as other grasses become a rich autumn amber tone. Its spherical shape and elegant arching presentation, as well as its delicate spikelets or seed heads, make the Prairie Dropseed one of the most beautiful native grasses of on the prairie landscape. Planting grasses and forbs native to a geographical area or habitat helps to establish a sustainable landscape. Sustainable landscapes help to protect water quality and increase biodiversity while providing homeowners the benefits of increased property values and low maintenance landscaping.

October's Prairie Dropseed

Prairie Dropseed Spikelet

Specifically, Prairie Dropseed, Sporobolus heterolepis, a deep-rooted perennial, is native to North America with distribution from Montana eastward to Massachusetts and westward to New Mexico. More exact statewide and county specific native Prairie Dropseed distribution can be found on the United States Department of Agriculture: Natural Resources Conservation Service Page.

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