Prairie Restoration – Year 2

Prairie: photos taken June 21, 2018

We seeded our native prairie in May 2017. We seeded very heavily – 48 different species, a high percentage of forbs – 136lbs of seeds for 10.6 acres – 12.8 lbs/acre and about $800/acre just in seed costs!

I’m spelling it all out because so far it has been a very frustrating experience. Lots and lots of money – lots and lots of time.

It cost us quite a bit in seeds, site prep, tractor rentals, time, and seed spreading fees.

In 2016, the prairie grew horseweed (mare’s tail) and crab grass. That was it. We followed all the rules – planting in spring and 2 mowings to keep down the annual weeds.

After many calls to the seed company, I was assured that all prairies look like garbage their first year. The seeds were good quality and they were doing what they were supposed to be doing. They said the prairie would take 2-3 years growing underground before it ever popped above ground. Really? Does that seem right?

After searching the internet, it seems that many of the species we planted should have germinated and been visible – the prairie clovers (12% of our mix!) lupine, black eyed susan, the grasses…and many more!

Close up of the prairie – some black eyed susans among the weeds
Some milkweed and yarrow is mixed in with the annual weeds
A few annual (weed) grasses with a small patch of goldenrod

This year, the horseweed is back – but not the crab grass. We have a pretty annual weed with yellow flowers and hoary alyssum covering most of the prairie. And then, scattered every few feet there is black eyed susan, yarrow, a wood mint, round headed bush clover and milkweed. Our mix contained black eyed susan and milkweed, but I think the only thing coming from our seed mix is the black eyed susans. We have milkweed all over our property, plus yarrow, goldenrod and round headed bush clover. I am guessing the seeds for these were in our “seed bank” or flew over from the adjacent space.

Sometimes – even when you plan for the best, the worst case scenario happens. We are going to mow the prairie as prescribed, but plan to allow whatever native perennials that make it into the prairie to continue on – even if they weren’t “planted.”

We have wound up with a race against erosion. Since the prairie area was  continuously cropped for almost 130 years, there is already substantial erosion. Whenever we get hard rain, gulleys form and the sand blows away in the wind. We are still thinking about what to do to improve perennial grasses and forb diversity (not to mention pollinator forage sources!!) There will surely be some seed planting this fall. We are hoping that more of the plants we seeded will continue to germinate and show above ground growth int the coming years.

Crossing fingers that we start to see some native grasses and some of the other 48 species that were planted.

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