Planting a Prairie Garden | Living the Country Life
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Planting a Prairie Garden

Prairie gardens require little care—no pruning, spraying, irrigation, or fertilizer. But they do require a little patience to get started. For thousands of years, tallgrass prairies covered much of interior North America, extending from Kansas to the East Coast, but agriculture changed much of the landscape. Today, there’s a movement to restore these prairie habitats in parks, preserves, and backyard landscapes as people recognize their beauty and appreciate the wildlife attracted to the diverse environment. 
  • Native Beauty

    A prairie garden provides plenty of eye candy, including purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) and cup plant (Silphium perfoliatum).

    Date Published: June 22, 2017
    Date Updated: August 2, 2017
  • Use Native Seeds

    To start a patch of prairie, invest time into eliminating invasive species with a herbicide, pulling, or solarization. Replace with grass and wildflower seeds native to your area or adaptable to your zone. State prairie associations or prairie nurseries can provide good recommendations. Instead of using a wildflower seed mix, purchase single varieties, then hand-sow a matrix of grasses interspersed with patches of wildflowers. 

    Date Published: June 22, 2017
    Date Updated: August 2, 2017
  • Keep Weeds at Bay

    During a prairie’s first year, mow occasionally, 6–8 inches above the ground, to keep weeds from dominating the garden and to allow the small seedling prairie plants to grow deep roots. Remove invasive weeds the first two years. It will take a few years for the plants to fill in and explode in color, but by the third and fourth years you can enjoy carefree the full prairie show and revel in the lack of maintenance.

    Date Published: June 22, 2017
    Date Updated: August 2, 2017
  • Prairie Plants in the Suburban Garden?

    Many prairie plants can spread too quickly and become thugs when unleashed on the home landscape so choose with care or be ready to pull rampant seedlings. Some of the following plants are known for spreading: Purple coneflower, royal catchfly, rattlesnake-master, Ohio spiderwort, stiff goldenrod, and black-eyed Susan.

    Date Published: June 22, 2017
    Date Updated: August 2, 2017
  • Delights of the Prairie Garden

    Prairie flowers and grasses attract birds, butterflies, and a host of other wildlife.  Here, a female Ruby-Throated Hummingbird is drawn to the last blooms of this tall larkspur (Delphinium exaltatum).

    Date Published: June 22, 2017
    Date Updated: August 2, 2017
  • Pollinator Plants

    Most blooms native to prairies have evolved to meet the needs of local birds and insects. Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is a prairie mainstay and butterfly magnet. Other pollinator plants include the New England aster (Symphyotrichum novaeangliae) which highlights the late-season prairie with yellow-center purple flowers that provide vital fall nectar for butterflies, especially Monarchs. 

    Date Published: June 22, 2017
    Date Updated: August 2, 2017
  • Tall Grasses to Consider

    For height, big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) stands tall (5–7 feet) in the prairie. For year-round interest, plant Canadian wild rye (Elymus canadensis), a cool-season grass, along with more typical warm-season prairie grasses.

    Date Published: June 22, 2017
    Date Updated: August 2, 2017
  • Bright Prairie Accent Flowers

    These are among some of the blooms that bring vibrant color to the tall prairie landscape.

    • Above, Queen of the prairie (Filipendula rubra) stands out with its distinctive cotton candy color.
    • Rough gayfeather (Liatris aspera)—This blazing star produces large buttons of flowers. Zones 3–9.
    • Sundrops (Oenothera friticosa)—The buds begin as red but open into beautiful bright yellow flowers in early summer. Zones 4–9.
    • Stiff goldenrod (Solidago rigida)—This large-flower goldenrod reliably provides end-of-season color in blazing shades of yellow. Zones 3–9.
    • Shooting stars (Dodecatheon meadia)—The five magenta-pink petals of this spring darling’s flower turn upward, forming a shooting star. Zones 4–8.
    Date Published: June 22, 2017
    Date Updated: August 2, 2017
  • Cow Slobber Flower

    Ohio spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis)—This delightful deep blue native flower blooms from late spring into early summer. Ohio spiderwort is also known as cow slobber for its flowers that liquefy a day after blooming. Zones 3–9.

    Date Published: June 22, 2017
    Date Updated: August 2, 2017
  • A Prairie Garden Classic

    Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) ranks as a favorite summertime flower that is at home in the wild garden, in borders, and in flowerbeds. From midsummer, these tough native plants bloom their golden heads off in sun or light shade and mix well with other perennials, annuals, and shrubs. Add black-eyed Susans to wildflower meadows or native plant gardens for a naturalized look. Average soil is sufficient for black-eyed Susans, but it should be able to hold moisture fairly well. Zones 3–10.

    Date Published: June 22, 2017
    Date Updated: August 2, 2017
  • A Year of Interest

    For fall color, combine Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) and New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae). Prairie grasses and blooms usually provide year-round interest, even during the winter season when the the dried grasses and seed pods hold up against the wind and snow.

    Date Published: June 22, 2017
    Date Updated: August 2, 2017

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