With Proper Maintenance, Restored Native Prairies Promise Big Rewards
The flowers are blooming, the birds are chirping, and the bees are buzzing! This is the time of year us Minnesotan’s all wait for! The Scott Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) is especially busy this time of year helping landowners manage their beautiful, blooming native flowers and grasses. If you have a small native garden, raingarden, or a large tract of native prairie you hopefully know that it does take some patience to get your little seeds or seedlings to start growing.
Native grasses and flowers originated in this region. They need very little maintenance because they do well in wet to droughty soils, and any kind of weather Mother Nature can throw at them. What really helps them get through is their extensive root systems which can grow up to 15 feet deep! Due to this extensive root system, you will not see many larger or blooming plants the first year. They are putting all of their energy into getting their root systems established. To help them get going and to out-compete the weeds (which you will have),the first year the SWCD recommends to cut back all vegetation when it reaches 1’, native and non-native, to 4-6”. Use a rotary, flail, or brush hog mower. By doing this you are getting rid of that above ground vegetation, allowing the sun to hit the soil and help get that little seed growing. You will want to do this at least 3 times during the growing season. You will also want to stay ahead of any weeds seeding out.
The second year your native plants should really start showing. One mowing to a height of 8” may be needed, but if your prairie is weed free for the most part, let it grow! If you do have areas of thistle or ragweed (which is common), spot spray or spot mow these areas. Always follow the directions on the label if using chemicals. The native grasses and flowers will eventually overtake the weeds if you have good site preparation and you mow the first year.
Year three should be stunning with colors and blooms all season long; spot mowing and spot spraying may be needed. Year four and five should also look just as good, but a burn is recommended. By burning, you are eliminating the dead “duff” layer, getting rid of any trees or shrubs, and killing off the weeds. If you cannot burn, mow the area all the way to the ground and rake or bail off the clippings if possible. The deep roots of the native plants can withstand high heat or mowing, and the vegetation comes up even bigger and better! Patience is as must in planting native prairie, but it is well worth it in the end!
If you have any questions in regards to maintaining native plants or planting native grasses and flowers, please call or email Alyssa Alness, Resource Conservation Technician, at (952) 492-5414 or firstname.lastname@example.org