We began our prairie restoration in the spring of 2017 – on upland dry sandy soil in the sand plains of Minnesota. Look back at our first 4 years here – Native Prairie Restoration: Years 1-3 and Native Prairie Restoration: Year 4.
Year 5-6- 2021-2022: Growth was slow coming into spring, as usual. 2021 was a very dry and rough year. Most of the plants grew less than half their normal stature. We didn’t collect seeds for the first time, letting the prairie and local wildlife take whatever was available. We saw many young species begin to really develop, like the baptisias, wild indigos and some of the slower growing grasses. June grass was very prevalent in 2022. In 2021, the prairie was dominated by the grasses as very little flowers put up blooms. It was rough beekeeping year as most plants prioritized their resources and flowers were scarce. On the flip side, our honey cured much faster in the dry heat. Even though 2022 was another record drought year, the prairie had put down enough “duff” over the past 5 years to hold some moisture and the plants came in thicker and stronger than previous seasons. Species present: 82 out of 118 species were visible this year.
Weather: 2021 and 2022 were Soooooooo dry. We had record droughts in both years. Temperatures were hot for Minnesota, particularly in 2022. Hot and dry. And windy. Awwww…..the sand plains! Most of the trees in our windbreaks died. Only the trees on the forest perimeters and the Maple trees survived. The prairie had a rough time in 2021. All the plants were short, not many flowers bloomed, and the prairie went dormant much earlier than normal.
We are writing this update in July of 2022. The last few years have been tough for us (and for the world) so we are writing mid-year so we are less likely to miss another update! 2021 left us very concerned about the prairie. The plants looked rough. Dead, dry, short, sparse, empty. What were they doing below the soil?
As it usually happens, nature finds a way. Prairie plants are evolutionarily designed to take the rough conditions of prairie life, and they came roaring back to life in 2022. They were in for another harsh year, but they wound up looking better than ever. We think it may be because the “duff layer” has really started to accumulate. The old grasses and plants lie down and cover the dry sand. That holds dew. It holds water. It builds fungal webs and other ecosystems that support life.
We were told to burn this away, and we are glad we didn’t! We grew the prairie to restore the soil and to provide food/shelter for wildlife. It may make sense in more lush and mesic soils, but in the sand, every bit of organic material helps and we won’t be burning in the future.
THE BIGGEST SUPRISE: The landing strip is no more! For years, we had one big strip that would not grow. It was barren sand for most of the season. We over seeded this zone every spring and fall. It has finally paid off, and the “landing strip” is now going through the same growth progression as the rest of the prairie. Right now – it is growing it’s usual purple love grass, but also plenty of penstemon, little blue stem, blanket flowers, black eyed susan, june grass, and spotted bee balm.
What Grew: All of the plants are coming well and growing as expected. We are now up to 82 of the original 118 planted species. It is a slow pace, for sure, but it is finally coming to fruition. If you are planting a prairie, trust the experts when they say it will happen. It will not seem like it’s happening. It will feel like throwing money in the fire. But the plants to eventually grow and then the system starts to evolve to work with the environment.
Here are some flower and overview shots from the past two years.