The Heat is On

Sea of Gold

[The Prairie] seems to be a constant contradiction of itself. It is delicate, yet resilient; it appears to be simple, but closer inspection indicates that it is extremely complex; it may appear monotonous, but it is diverse and ever-changing throughout the seasons.

– James Stubbendieck

Dry Dry Dry

Dry Dry Dry Photo by Andreas

Here in the Midwest, especially northern Illinois, the summer’s excessive heat and humidity have wreaked havoc on my newly planted native plugs. The National Climatic Data Center  (NCDC) has described the 2012 climate patterns as a drought. Drought is very difficult to define, nevertheless, “[c]ommon to all types of drought is the fact that they originate from a deficiency of precipitation resulting from an unusual weather pattern” (Enloe). The NCDC uses the Palmer Drought Index for annual drought comparisons. The balance between moisture demand also known as temperature driven evapotranspiration and moisture supply in the form of precipitation are the variables used to measure the Palmer drought indices. Short term moisture conditions for the current month are recorded as the Palmer Z Index, while long term moisture conditions are portrayed with the Palmer Hydrological Drought Index (PHDI) and Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI). More specifically, the PHDI and PDSI represent the current month’s cumulative moisture conditions integrated over the last several months.

Drought Map for July 2012
by Richard Heim

U.S. Drought Map for August 2012
By Brewer and Love-Brotak

Illinois Drought September 2012
by Brian Fuchs

At the end of June, the NCDC reported that 55% of the United States was affected by “moderate to extreme drought” and 33% of these were experiencing “severe to extreme drought”. On of July 26th 2012, the NCDC reported that 63.9% of the contiguous U.S. was experiencing moderate to extreme drought conditions based on the Palmer Drought Indices. At the time of this post, The NCDC has reported that 63.2% of the lower forty-eight states were still experiencing drought conditions despite the some much-welcomed precipitation deposited on much of the Midwest from Iowa to Ohio. Despite the recent wetter and cooler temperatures here in Illinois, the crops and my native plugs have been devastated by this summer’s heat and dry conditions. Nevertheless, blooming two to three weeks earlier than normal and experiencing a shortened bloom time, my established natives have continued to thrive.

Carolyn Harstad, author of Go Native! Gardening with Native Plants and Wildflowers in the Lower Midwest has noted that native plants, once established, are more likely to survive and thrive because they have adapted to a region’s climatic swings. The climatic adaptation of deep and extensive root systems by native plants has reduced their need for supplemental watering, fertilizing, and chemical maintenance. Artificial fertilization and herbicide use all contribute to the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect is a force currently degrading our environment through the destruction of natural resources. Scientists have shown that environmental degradation results in climatic extremes or global warming. While some will say droughts and temperature extreme are all part of nature, one thing is for certain, prairies have the resiliency to rebound and diversify in harsh temperatures and hydrologic conditions. Chris Helzer, an ecologist, director for The Nature Conservancy, and blogger on The Prairie Ecologist has cited a fascinating article about the 1934 drought entitled, Effects of the Great Drought on the Prairies of Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas by prairie biologist, J.E. Weaver detailing the drought response of prairie plants. After reading this paper, I believe the continued survival of my established native plants during the “Drought of 2012”  supports both Weaver’s and Harstad’s observation that established native plants are equipped to withstand climatic stress.

Plugs newly planted in May on the steep, southern facing slope for the most part have all succumbed to the climatic extremes of the excessive temperature and dryness. While I am aware that new transplants require consistent watering and weeding during their first year of growth, the planting site’s topography coupled with the lack of rain, and the inability to access creek water were more than either the plants of I could manage. However, there is hope. Just like Dibol and Doverspike reported in their posts, “Drought of 2012″ and “Plant survival in harsh drought conditions” of Prairie Nursery’s blog The Native Plant Herald, my established creek side prairie garden has bloomed. The garden composed of  Lanceleaf CoreopsisButterflyweedPurple ConeflowerBlack-eyed SusanYellow ConeflowerRough BlazingstarOx Eyed Sunflower, IronweedCrooked Stem Aster and New England Aster seem unaffected by the drought and extreme temperature this summer and flowered magnificently. Little BluestemPrairie DropseedSwitchgrass, and Sideoats Grama, all deep rooted grasses, planted among the forbs also look healthy and have begun to produce fruit. Fruit, sustenance for the the fauna has been produced in spite of the inhospitable weather conditions.

Creek Side Survivors

Pale Purple Coneflower

The essence of a gardener is hope and faith. The hope continues based on Helzer, Muller, and Weaver’s experience that established plants that have succumbed to a year’s climatic extremes re-emerge in the coming spring, stronger and healthier than ever. The butterflies sipping the nectar of the New England Aster remind me that they are symbolic of resurrection. The butterfly forms a cocoon, appears dead, only later to emerge more beautiful and stronger than before. Perhaps even the plugs will be reborn, too. Only time will tell. I have faith, it is supported by my hope that my native plant garden will recover from the Great Drought of 2012.

Yellow Coneflower and Crooked Stem Aster

Related articles

Resources

Dibol, Neil. “Drought of 2012.” The Native Plant Champion: Restoring balance to our landscapes and living spaces. Prairie Nursery. 11 Jul. 2012. Web. 29 Jul. 2012.

Doverspike, Sarie. “Plant Survival in harsh drought conditions.” The Native Plant Champion: Restoring balance to our landscapes and living spaces, Prairie Nursery. 9 Jul. 2012. Web. 29 Jul. 2012.

Enloe, Jesse. “Drought Termination and Amelioration.” National Climatic Data Center, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. N.D. Web. 6 Aug. 2012.

“Greenacres: Landscaping with Native Plants.” Great Lakes, United States Environmental Protection Agency. 15 Mar. 2012. Web. 20. Jul. 2012.

Harstad, Carolyn. Go Native! Gardening with Native Plants and Wildflowers in the Lower Midwest. Indiana University Press. Bloomington, In. 1999.

Helzer, Chris. “The Great Drought (Again).” The Prairie Ecologist. N.P. 29 Aug. 2012. Web. 1 Sept. 2012.

Mueller, Irene and Weaver, J. E. “Relative Drought Resistance of Seedlings of Dominant Prairie Grasses.” Agronomy Faculty Publications. 1 Oct. 1942 Web.1 Sept. 2012.

Phillips, Jack. “Drought Spreads, Half of US Counties Now Disaster Areas.” The Epoch Times. 1 Aug. 2012. Web. 5 Aug 2012.

Plume, Karl. “Drought eases in U.S. Midwest, worsens in northern Plains.” Reuters. 30 Aug. 2012. Web. 1 Sept. 2012.

“Summer 2012 Drought Update.” National Climatic Data Center, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 26 Jul. 2012. Web. 27 Jul. 2012.

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.

Bluejackets to Jello

Ohio Spiderwort Bloom

Bluejacket bud

Ohio Spiderwort, Tradescantia ohiensis, also called Bluejacketis a beautiful native forb that produces one bloom each morning. These forbs bloom constantly and profusely from May through July. The flower of the forb is innately sensitive to the day’s rising temperature and each bloom shrivels, essentially dissolving, into a gelatinous fluid by midday. This sensitivity also allows the flora to act as an environmental indicator, responding to air quality and radiation. The spiderwort’s petals change color from blue to violet in reaction to air quality, with the degree of color change an indicator of the amount pollution in the air. As previously stated, this forb is also a sensitive to radiation, and has been used to detect very low radiation levels in its immediate environment. In response to radiation exposure, the forb’s blue stamens turn pink.

Tradescantia ohiensis

Tradescantia ohiensis (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This species of spiderwort is a clump-forming, herbaceous native perennial that grows up to 3′ tall with dark bluish-green, arching, unbranched, leaves. Each 1.75 inch wide and 18 inch long vertically-channeled, alternate leaf appears as if it has been folded in half lengthwise as one of a possible eight nodes along a round, smooth or glabrous central stem. The .75 inch to 1.5 inch in diameter, three-petaled, blue flowers occur in a small cluster on the stems at the top of the plant. The forb flowers from late May into early July in the midwestern states and goes dormant in late summer. Each spent flower produces several, tri-sectioned seed capsules that when mature, split into 3 sections, to produce 3-6 oval, brown seeds per capsule. The forb’s root system is thick, fleshy, and fibrous, sending off occasional offshoots nearby making it ideally suited for propagation via root division.

An adaptable plant, Spiderworts tolerate a wide range of growing conditions but prefers moist to medium wet, well-drained, acidic, sandy soil in full sun to part shade. Their leaves respond to harsh weather conditions, competition from other plants, or age by developing brown blotches or becoming yellow in color. Caution should be exercised when planting the Spiderwort in areas with ideal growing conditions since they tend to self-seed and can become somewhat aggressive competition, forming colonies and crowding out other nearby natives. However, it must be noted that when planted in shady conditions, flower production may be less profuse.

Growing conditions, including climate and soil type have an effect on the geographical distribution of a plant. The Ohio Spiderwort is geographically distributed from Ontario south to eastern Texas and eastward to include populations in the midwest as well as northeastern and southeastern states. More statewide specific distribution can be found on the USDA’s Tradescantia ohiensis distribution map. Common throughout Illinois, Ohio Spiderwort’s native habitat includes moist to mesic prairies, black and bur oak savannas, limestone glades, thickets and woodland margins, moist or riverside meadows, and roadside or railroad ditches. Widely scattered, these plants sometimes appear in sizable colonies in disturbed areas. In nature, the Spiderwort is a companion to Big Bluestem, Switchgrass, and Indiangrass as well as Lanceleaf Coreopsis, Bee Balm, Golden Alexander and Pale Purple Coneflower.

Pollination is vital to the survival both the native flora and fauna of an ecosystem. Pollination ecologists have identified several invaluable relationships between the Ohio spiderwort and native fauna. Perhaps the most important relationship is between the forb and bees for they are the predominate pollinators of these flowers as well as most flowering plants. Bees, specifically the long-tongued bees, honey bees, bumblebees and Halictine bees feed on the Spiderwort’s nectar and in the process carry pollen from one Spiderwort flower to another flower of the same species, leading to successful pollination of the forb. Other fauna such as Karner blue butterfly, Syrphid flies, Leaf beetles, White-tailed deer, Cottontail rabbits, Box turtles, snails, and various species of birds use the Spiderworts as a food source, feeding on stray pollen, foliage, or seeds. The non-toxic foliage, particularly its flowers and stems, are added to salads and said to have a flavor similar to asparagus.

Commonly found in prairies, the beautiful Ohio Spiderworts play an important role in ecological restorations. Not only does it provide a food source for many native fauna species it also acts as gauge in determining the health of a habitat. Plant a few spiderworts in your garden to help establish a sustainable landscape!

Resources

“Bumblebee Behavior.” Bumblebee. N.P. 1997. Web. 12 Jul.2012.

“Tradescantia ohiensis Raf.” Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. N.D. University Teas at Austin. N.D. Web. 12 Jul. 2012.

“Tradescantia ohiensis Rafinesque.” Flora of North America. eFloras,  Missouri Botanical Garden & Harvard University Herbaria.  2008. Web. 7 Jul. 2012.

Hilty, John. “Definitions and Line Drawings of Botanical Terminology.” Illinois Wildflowers. N.P. 2002. Web 6 Jul. Web. 2012.

Hilty, John. “Flower-Visiting Insects of the Ohio Spiderowort.” Illinois Wildflowers. N.P. 2002. Web. 6 Jul. Web. 2012.

Hilty, John. “Ohio Spiderwort.” Illinois Wildflowers. 2002 N.P. Web 6 Jul. Web. 2012.

Ichikawa, Sadao. “Somatic Mutatiion Rate in Tradescantia Stamen Hairs at Low Radiation Levels: Finding of Low Doubling Doses of Mutations”The Japanese Journal of Genetics . 47 (6) 1972: 411–421. Web.

Tenaglia, Dan. “Tradescantia ohiensis Raf.” Missouri Plants.  N.P. N.D. Web. 11 Jul. 2012.

Sun & Rise Over Run


May Apple: Sun - Full to Partial Shade, Soil Moisture-Dry to Medium

In the previous post, Tend the Soil , I focused on one of the three primary factors that affect plant growth in restoration projects, soil conditions. As previously noted, evaluation of all three factors is essential in the creation of a viable restoration plan; the other crucial influences on prairie plant growth are sunlight and site slope topography.

A critical factor to consider when selecting plants for a restoration area is the sunlight exposure. Six to 10 hours of sun a day are needed to sustain prairie plant growth. Some species require full sun to thrive whereas many woodland plants do best in the shade of a woodland tree canopy. Other native plants have the ability to grow in areas with a wide range of sunlight conditions.  According to the Prairie Nursery, sunlight conditions can be divided into four basic levels:

1) full sun: direct sun all day to at least one half day of full sun;
2) partial sun: direct sun for no more than one half day, shaded for at least one half day;
3) partial shade: little or no direct sun, with diffuse light from the edges or through a canopy of tree leaves creates partial shade conditions; and

4) full shade: no direct or diffuse light reaches the ground. A dense canopy of trees completely shades the forest floor. The forest also minimizes wind speeds, protecting woodland plants from excessive drying or physical damage from high winds. The shade of sugar maples, beech, basswood, and dense conifers typify full shade conditions. (Diboll 5)

Ox Eyed Sunflower: Sun- Full, Soil Moisture -Dry, Medium, or Moist

Prairie plant species that have adapted to conditions of high light intensities, heat, wind, and even hail grow in full sun. Native plants that have adapted to growing conditions with low light intensity, but require protection from temperature changes, high winds, and hail thrive in full shade. Plants that prefer the intermediate sunlight conditions between full sun and full shade or partial sun can often tolerate full sun growing conditions in a garden situation that provides some shade or protection for part of the day. Sun-loving plants on the other hand, do not thrive without sufficient sunlight, and therefore, cannot be planted in shady areas. Similarly, shade loving plants only grow in tree canopy protected areas and usually cannot tolerate full sun. Shady prairie areas should be planted with native savanna or woodland species. Both Prairie Nursery and Prairie Moon Nursery offer seed mixes and pre-designed gardens to fit a site’s sun and soil conditions.

Sunlight intensity and soil drainage are also affected by the land’s slope and aspect. Slope refers to the steepness of the land’s surface and aspect refers to the geographical direction the slope faces. No matter what soil type, hilltops and steep slopes tend to be drier than depressions and valleys. In general, slopes increase the rate of the soil’s water drainage affecting the overall soil moisture available to the vegetation.

It is important to note, the greater the slope, the faster the soil drainage, which results in drier the soil. South and west facing slopes will be hotter and drier due to exposure to direct sun and winds in spring and fall for at least part of the day. East facing slopes will generally have more moderate soil conditions, receiving only the cooler morning sun. Cooler and wetter conditions are seen on north facing slopes because they receive direct sun for only a short period of time in mid-summer.

Four unique groups of prairie plants have been created based upon the hydrology or soil moisture level in which the natives grow best: Dry, Medium, Moist, and Wet. These are defined below:

  • dry soils are soils extremely well-drained sandy or rocky in nature and do not hold water and tend to dry out rapidly;
  • medium soils are well drained, loamy and clay-based soils that do not experience standing water;
  • moist soils tend to be damp and may have standing water for a few days in spring or fall. However, the  soil’s surface usually dries out by late spring or early summer, while the subsoil remains moist; and
  • wet soils are damp almost all year round, even in mid-summer. Spring usually brings flooding to wet soils, with standing water remaining  for a week or longer in early spring, but for only a few days in the summer.

A list of prairie and savanna flora associated with soil moisture gradient in the adjacent diagram can be found in the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Technical Bulletin number cited below or here. Prairie Nursery also has assembled a list of plant species categorized by soil moisture requirements.

To determine the hydrology and moisture level of the soil, observe site and determine whether the natural state is dry, medium, or wet in nature. Observe the area after rainfall and note whether the site forms puddles, retains water, or  water drains quickly. Decide whether the site in a low-lying area or upland. Make note of any river, lake, or spring is located on the site and its proximity to your restoration site. Compare the sites characteristics to the moisture levels given above to determine the site’s moisture level. Performing a percolation test is an alternative to the previously suggested subjective, soil moisture evaluation.” Water drainage should be one-quarter inch per hour or faster for dry or mesic prairie plants to do well. Plant wet prairie species if your soil drains slower than that. If you have areas that are consistently wet, plan to plant wetland species in that area.” Finally, species moisture requirements differs greatly between dry prairie, mesic prairie, wet prairie, and wetland habitats; select species that will thrive on your site.

In these two consecutive posts, we’ve learned that three main factors determine the growing conditions for a plant; they are 1) soil, 2) sun, and 3) slope aspect. Soil, sun, and slope of the site must be evaluated when selecting plants, since all three of these essential factors determine whether plants will flourish in a certain location. Once a site’s growing conditions have been determined, site specific plants can be selected to match the site.

Related articles

Resources

Cochrane, Theodore and  Iltis, Hugh. Soil moisture gradient and the effect on species composition. Atlas of the Wisconsin Prairie and Savanna Flora, WDNR Technical Bulletin No. 191, 2000. Web. 15 Apr 2012.

Diboll, Neil. “Designing and Planting Your Prairie Garden.” Prairie Nursery, The Productivity Source, LLC., N.D. Web. 13 Apr. 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.

Kilde, Rebecca. “Going Native: a prairie restoration handbook for Minnesota land owners.” Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Section of Ecological services Scientific and Natural areas Program, 2000. Web. 15 Apr. 2012.

“An introduction to using native plants in restoration projects.” National Park Service, N.D. Web. 14 Apr. 2012.

Smiley, Thomas E. and Martin, Thomas R. Soil Drainage Analysis and Treatment Considerations. Bartlett Tree Research Laboratories Technical Report. N.P. N.D. Web. 15 Apr. 2012.

 

To Sow or to Transplant: that is the question

"Faith in a Seed"

 “Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.”

Henry D. Thoreau

Ah, the faith we put in a seed that once dispersed by man, animal, or the elements provides the potential to restore or birth a prairie. Prairie gardens can be established by humans in one of two ways, by either directly sowing native plant seeds or transplanting native plant seedlings into the ground. Sowing native plant seeds directly into the earth’s surface is the least expensive way to add native plants to a garden. Growing native plants from seed however, is a slow process.

Here in the Midwest, the process begins with the sowing of the dormant seeds during months of January and February, when the ground is bare or is covered by just a few inches of snow. Small gardens are amenable to either hand broadcasting or mechanical seed dispersion using a drop seeder. When a small amount is seed is to be dispersed, more even seed coverage of the planting area is achieved when  the seed is mixed with inert material such as wet sand, cottonseed hulls, or wet sawdust. Seed coverage calibration can be determined using false sowing. False sowing is accomplished in the following manner:

  • place a measured volume of inert material it into an empty gallon container;
  • put the container at your side, start walking while reaching into the container with the other hand and grabbing a handful of the material;
  • with the wind at your back, sling the seed in a sweeping motion out in front of you; and
  • once you have run out of the inert material, estimate the “seed” coverage on your site by multiplying the width times the length of the distance you covered with the inert material. 

Now, with the seeding coverage determined, thoroughly mix the seed and the matrix together. Begin sowing the seed onto the finely raked, clod and rock free area. Rake the seed into the soil’s surface or press the seed into the soil by walking on it, and then cover it, preferably with fine soil or sand. Once seeding is completed, one waits. One waits for the earth’s temperature to warm, the snow to melt, and the appearance of spring seedlings to rise above the surface of the soil. One continues to wait as the seedlings develop.

During the first few years of development, most of the plant’s energy is expended on developing an extensive root system rather than producing flowers. The first year is all about vigilant weed control and watering. Maintenance of the developing native, plant seedlings is required during the first year to reduce competition for space, light, and water from the faster growing weeds. Knowledge of seedling native plant seedling identification is paramount to successful maintenance during this crucial growth period. A seedling identification resources are available through this link and this link. Spring of year two requires the removal of residual native plant vegetation and more weeding. And, if one is lucky, the second summer brings the first flowering of the juvenile, native plant! Year three brings a repeat of the spring cleanup process and dependable summer blooming of the adolescent, native plant. In subsequent years, a mid-spring burning or mowing helps to ensure the continued health of your prairie garden.

An alternative to growing native plants from seed is to purchase transplants or plugs from local ecotype nurseries. Ecotype Nurseries for the northern Illinois region,identified in an earlier post, are linked here. The purchase of plugs or transplants can be an expensive proposition; however, costs can be minimized by purchasing the smallest plants. There are several benefits of using plugs in native prairie gardening. Some benefits include: the fact that these young plants grow more quickly than seeds, often blooming the first year after being transplanted, plugs can easily be planted on slopes where sowed seeds would be likely washed away in the winter melt and spring runoff, they allow the native plant gardener to design and plant a landscaped garden, transplants can be easily added to existing native prairies without disturbing the existing plants, and they are more easily identifiable than seedlings sown directly into the soil.

Materials for indoor sowing

Native plant seeds sown and labeled in tray

Seeded, labeled, & covered tray

Seed trays under grow lights

In an earlier posting, we established that our prairie restoration location involves a creek side slope; therefore, transplanting native prairie plant plugs is the method of choice for establishing our garden. As a cost saving measure, the first week of March, we started seed trays with some native grass seeds. The native plant seeds requiring dry stratification were sown indoors in the following manner:

  • clean, three-inch deep, plastic, partitioned seed trays, with drainage holes, were filled 2/3 of the way full of sterile or good quality potting mixture;
  • a couple of seeds were placed in the each partitioned area;
  • the seeds were pressed into the soil to a depth equal to its diameter, and covered with potting mixture or sand;
  • the seed tray was labeled using a Sharpie on Popsicle sticks or tape, marking the tray with corresponding plant name;
  • to encourage germination, the soil of the seed trays will be kept consistently warm by placing the trays on top of heat mats or by using grow lights, fluorescent lighting, or heat lamps for 12-16 hours daily;
  • the newly sown seeds are to be watered as needed to maintain “soil” moisture and to promote seedling germination;
  • a humidity dome or plastic wrap was placed over the container to slow evaporation;
  • the trays should be checked daily for signs of germination. At the first sign of seedling development the cover is to be removed to promote air circulation;
  • seedling development is dependent on keeping the plants well watered. Water the seedlings with warm water from either the top or the bottom of the tray;
  • thin the new seedlings as soon as their first “true” leaves appear. Cut off,  rather than pull out, the weakest and spindliest seedlings at soil level, to increase the strength of the strongest ones;
  • transplant the flat grown seedlings into larger pots when they have acquired four leaves. This step can be eliminated if the seeds were germinated in partitioned seed trays;
  • once the seedling has four leaves, it is time to prepare the young plants for transplantation into the ground. One week prior to transplantation, place the young plants in a shaded, sheltered part of the garden for a few hours each day, gradually increase the daily their sun exposure. It is important to remember that during this hardening off period, the young plants should be moved back indoors each night unless the ambient temperature is going to stay above 50°F at night; and
  • finally, once fully acclimated to the elements, dig a hole in the soil twice the width and one-half inch deeper the length of the plug. Using a plastic knife, gently cut around the edges of the container and lift the seedling by grasping its’ leaves, not the delicate stem. Insert the plant into its intended location, firm soil around the seedling, and water immediately. Repeat this process for all the seedlings.
Once all the young plants are safely tucked away in the earth, remember to sprinkle them generously with water. Continue to nurture the plants for the first three years according to the steps outlined above in paragraph four of this post. Minimal maintenance is required beyond this timetable. Allow Nature’s hand to disperse the annual native seeds through the air, belly of a bird, or runoff trickle for “every plant can be born again in every seed” (Robert D. Richardson, Jr.).

Related articles

Resources

Thoreau, Henry D. Faith in a Seed. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 1993. Print.

Smith, Darryl, Williams, Dave, Houseal, Greg, and Henderson, Kirk. Tall Grass Prairie Center Guide to Prairie Restoration in the Upper Midwest, Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2010. Print.

Wilson, Jim. Landscaping with Wildflowers: An Environmental Apporach to Gardening. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co. 1992. Print.

“When to Seed Your Prairie.” Prairie Nursery, The Productivity Source, LLC., 2012 Web. 29 Feb 2012.

“Prairie Seeding Procedures.” Prairie Nursery, The Productivity Source, LLC., 2012 Web. 29 Feb 2012.

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

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