April Showers


“To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,

One clover, and a bee, And revery. The revery alone will do, If bees are few.”
Emily Dickinson

Here in Northern Illinois, we have had a particularly cold and wet March. And now, twelve days into April, it seems as though the weather will never warm or dry up. I really should not even whisper a complaint about either the cold or the precipitation after coming off one of the hottest and driest summers in the past thirty years. This coveted moisture is part of spring. It turns the dormancy of winter into signs of spring green. As I write this post, the daffodils are rapidly breaking through the soil’s surface to the fanfare of croci’s petals of purple, gold and white. Slowly too, the native plants are awakening, as hints of green foliage begin to appear at their crowns. Spring is my favorite time of year. The temperatures are mild and the earth is fragrant. Life begins anew.

Now is a perfect time to plan and order plugs for spring prairie planting. Here in Northern Illinois, the soil will have sufficiently warmed and dried out enough for planting by mid-May. In the meantime, by day you can prepare the soil for planting by removing invasive plants and by night, design your prairie garden. As you plan, be sure to select plants that will create a complex and diverse plant community comprised of many different species of grasses and forbs. The theory behind establishing an ecologically sound and thriving prairie landscape was discussed in a previous post titled Restoration in Progress.

Native flora does not grow in isolation from the other organisms around them but are connected to the other living things in their habitat so it also important to select ecotype native plants or seeds. The importance of ecotype native plant selection was presented early in a post titled, Ecotype Native Plant Selection. Local ecotype plant materials originate in, and are native to, a 250 mile radius in one’s geographic region. Below you will find a list of upcoming native plants sale with ecotype plants from within the acceptable range for Northern Illinois prairies.

Citizens for Conservation 17th Annual Native Plant, Shrub & Tree Sale Saturday, May 4 • 9:00 am to 3:00 pm CFC Headquarters – 459 W. Highway 22, Lake Barrington, IL

Lake County Forest Preserve District 16th Annual Native Plant Sale Saturday, May 11 • 9:00 am to 3:00 pm Sunday, May 12 • 10:00 am to 3:00 pm Independence Grove Forest Preserve – 16400 W Buckley Road, Libertyville, IL

Lake Forest Open Lands Association Go Native Plant Sale Saturday, May 18 • 9:00 am to 4:00 pm Mellody Farm Nature Preserve – 350 North Waukegan Road, Lake Forest, IL

Conserve Lake County Native Plant Sale All Fridays, Saturdays & Sundays from May 17 to June 9 • 8:00 am to 3:00 pm Almond Marsh Forest Preserve – 32492 N. Almond Road, Grayslake, IL

If you are overwhelmed by the idea of designing a prairie garden, Prairie Nursery offers some beautiful, pre-planned prairie garden designs that fit every soil and sun condition. Whether you choose to plan your own prairie garden or use a pre-planned garden both the earth and the gardener will be transformed and renewed. Happy planning and planting.


Restoration in Progress

Prairie Smoke

Prairie Smoke (Photo credit: pchgorman)

During the past three decades, public interest in prairie restoration has grown significantly. The motivations to participate in ecological restorations vary; for me, working to restore a piece of the prairie, both as a volunteer steward and as an individual, provides a source of spiritual renewal. Not only am I spiritually, but also physically renewed in the process of reclaiming the land and building a piece of the prairie. Sweat equity is a rejuvenating tonic!

An ecologically sound and thriving prairie landscape is built using a complex and diverse plant community comprised of many different species of grasses and forbs. In fact, restoration ecologist, Roger C. Anderson has identified the four components required to recreate an ecologically sound prairie.

Four ingredients necessary for ecological restoration
to be successful include: (1) a vision of what the ecosystem
being restored should be like when the restoration is finished,
(2) an understanding of the ecological processes needed to
restore and maintain the ecosystem, (3) knowledge of the
specific restoration skills and management practices that
are needed, and (4) public support for goals of ecological
restoration and confidence in the principles that form the
scientific basis for restoration. Research can contribute to all
of these components (Roger C. Anderson).

With these four elements in mind, one must also consider that “…each restoration site is unique in terms of its original ecological attributes, kinds, extent, duration and  intensity of human disturbance, and management activities, each restoration solution must be unique” ( Stephen Glass). After thorough ecological assessment of the site, the first physical restoration step requires the removal of invasive plant species from the site. Stephen B. Glass, a restoration ecologist, believes a restoration plan that “…ignores the fundamental causes of the pest species invasion and just treats the symptoms,” will result in a continually frustrating battle between the restorer and the invasive species. He suggests that when one tackles the underlying cause for the invasive species prevalence in a habitat by treating it like a “repair job.” Look at “…what you know, what you don’t know, and what you will need to learn to solve the [restoration] problem” (Glass). Specifically, look for an “… altered hydrology, or soil disturbance, or increased soil fertility. If the underlying cause is not dealt with, then continued frustration and [re-occurrence of invasive species] will be likely” (Glass).

In a previous post, Invasives Begone, I outlined the steps for land preparation in the restoration process. Therefore, once the invasive plants have been dealt with, the seedbed prepared, the next step is to reconstruct the plant community. Native plants are given the greatest opportunity to thrive if local ecotype seeds or plugs are used to reestablish the health and biodiversity of an ecosystem. After the seeds or plugs have been planted, the rest of the first growing season is spent watering and weeding the seedbeds. The second season requires spring removal of dead plant material and weeding. The first blooms are likely to appear during growing season two or three.

Below, I have linked two videos that exemplify a restoration in progress. The prairie restoration demonstration video produced during the 2010 Chicago Lawn and Garden show does a great job of illustrating the steps of the restoration process.

How to Restore a Prairie

The second video also does a nice job of showing the annual progression of a Minnesota prairie restoration garden.

My North American Tallgrass Prairie Restoration/garden

Related articles


Anderson, Roger C. History and Progress of Ecological Restoration in Tallgrass Prairie. Pp. 217-228. Chapter 13, INHS Special Publication 30: Canaries in the Catbird Seat, Univ. of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana 2009. Print.

Glass, Stephen B. “Thoughts on Restoration Management.” WingraSprings, N. P. Web. 6 Mar. 2012.

%d bloggers like this: