Believe it or not, right now on January 26, is a great time to plant prairie. The stewardship crew is going to plant a small prairie on the Mississippi Sanctuary tomorrow. It is part of our new program of changing fescue turf into small prairie plots. This allows us to cut back on mowing, better usage of our time, less wear and tear on equipment, and less noise when members are trying to enjoy nature.
Prairies are incredibly complex and simple at the same time. So little is known about prairies, from the interactions of plants to the varieties of microbes in prairie soil that there are many opportunities to do studies of prairies. The Nature Institute has been a leader in the area fostering these studies, with students from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE), Lewis and Clark Community College, Principia College, Alton High School, etc.
The simple part of prairies is the planting. A few tillings of the soil, a hand spreader, and rolling the soil, and you have prairie. These small plantings lend themselves to great diversity; they provide a small colorful addition to any yard, field, border, etc. A wonderful prairie booklet to get a better picture of planting prairies is available from the Illinois Dept. of Natural Resources. “Prairie Establishment and Landscaping” by William Mclean is an excellent resource to use for planting any size prairie.
There are many benefits of having small prairies in your landscaping. Butterflies like to visit the many forbs in a planting. You can attract different species by planting varieties of plants. The milkweeds will bring in Monarch Butterflies, for example. Hummingbirds, insects, small mammals are all attracted to prairie plantings. You can spend less time on the mower and more time relaxing. Prairie plants require less maintenance than annuals and last longer than the horticultural perennials. Many prairie plants are still flowering after 20 years. A couple of dropseed grasses grown from seeds, collected by the Lewis and Clark Expedition, are well over 200 years old. They are located in Philadelphia.
Good luck on your prairie endeavors! The TNI staff is always ready to answer your questions. Contact us at the office (618) 466-9930. Enjoy the nice weather!
Director of Stewardship