Cedar Valley Arboretum & Botanic Gardens

To Make A Prairie: Part Two

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 Last week I promised a post on prairie basics, so here we go…

I like the concept of prairies because it is (in most of Iowa) returning our soil to its most natural ecosystem; it is getting back to the basics.  I hope you will visit The Arboretum’s two prairies this summer to experience for yourself! 

What plants are found in a prairie?   We often use the term “native” when describing prairies.  A native plant is one that grows naturally in that area without direct or indirect human intervention.  A plant can be native to a specific ecosystem, state or region as well as a specific habitat.  Most plants have been native to an area for hundreds of years and some continue to spread (without human intervention). 

Why plant a prairie?  The list of benefits is long, but here are a few: creates wildlife habitat, provides four-season color and textural interest, low maintenance once established and tolerant of harsh growing conditions. 

What are proper prairie growing conditions?  We often think of sun-loving, low moisture growing conditions but different prairie plantings can adapt to a variety of conditions.  You can find prairie plants for well-drained soil, medium soil, clay soil, full sun, partial sun and full shade.  It is all about finding the right mix for your site. 

How do you choose prairie plants?  With the increasing popularity of prairie plantings, many nurseries are selling mixes for a variety of needs and interests.  You can buy butterfly/hummingbird/songbird, low-growing, meadow, rain garden, land restoration, erosion control and even deer resistant mixes.  

How do you start a prairie?  Establishing a successful prairie requires preparing the site, choosing site-appropriate plants and deciding the best method and time to install the plant material.  Not taking the time upfront to fully prepare will often result in poor results.   The most important task of site preparation is to fully eliminate all existing vegetation (Weeds growing in your newly planted prairie can be suffocated by quick growing weeds, and we all know how quick weeds grow in our gardens!). 

I have recently received a catalogue in the office filled with a lot of great prairie information.  Check it out at http://www.american-natives.biz/images/Wholesale%20Catalog.pdf.  The catalogue describes a variety of mixes and then provides photos and information on specific plants.  Then starting on page 78 is several pages of thorough, well-written information on establishment and maintenance.  It is well worth the few seconds it takes to download! 

Want to learn more about the history of prairies in Iowa?  I encourage you to visit the Iowa Prairie Network’s website at http://www.iowaprairienetwork.org to learn more about prairie remnant versus prairie restoration and prairie reconstruction. 

See you in the gardens. 



Written by cedarvalleyarboretum

March 4, 2010 at 10:23 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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