Prairies once stretched from horizon to horizon vast open spaces

Prairies once stretched from horizon to horizon, vast open spaces that bear no resemblance to today’s urban lots. But many gardeners and landscape professionals are discovering that prairie wildflowers and grasses offer a more sustainable, natural and varied alternative to the conventional manicured lawns that have turned America’s neighborhoods into clones of one another. We live where prairie once existed so it makes sense that we garden using prairie wildflowers. These plants existed for centuries without the benefit of landscape crews and garden centers.

A prairie landscape is also friendlier on the environment, requiring only a minimum of the water our thirsty lawns require and the need for chemical pest control is virtually eliminated. Few of us have the rich, deep fertile prairie soils that once existed on the plains. Our good topsoil is usually stripped away during development, leaving us with the heavy clay gumbo dug out for basements, spread out over the lot and compacted by equipment.

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For plants to be successful, it’s helpful to amend our soils so they more closely replicate the soils we once had. We can work to restore them by raising the existing soil grade and adding generous amounts of topsoil and compost into the soil base. An easy way to start out is to incorporate prairie plants into existing perennial borders or make small “postage stamp” prairie areas in dry, sunny spots near sidewalks or hardscaping. Creating a new bed may require substantial soil amendment.

Preparing Soil for a New Bed O Weeds are best eradicated before planting or sowing because they shade and outcompete slow-growing prairie seedlings.

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O Smothering is a popular technique for small areas of lawn or weeds. First cut the grass or weeds very short, then put down a thick layer of newspapers or lawn recycle bags for up to a month to smother them. This can be covered with several inches of a sand or compost mix to further weigh it down. O You can also use minimally toxic, short-lived herbicides, as carefully and sparingly as possible, on perennial weeds that are aren’t removed by hand-weeding. O If possible, enrich the soil for your tallgrass prairie garden by incorporating 3-6 inches of compost/topsoil. A dry, shortgrass prairie garden will benefit from raising the soil with a mix of topsoil, sand or gravel. Maintaining a Prairie Garden O It is best to fight only the weeds that can cause major problems later on. It is helpful to know what the prairie plants look like when they first emerge in spring, but it is far easier to know what the most aggressive weeds look like early on so they can be pulled out before they overtake other plants. O Let annual weeds act as a cover crop and worry only about keeping seed from maturing by mowing. Mow whenever weeds get over 10 inches tall using a flail mower or a weed whip. If weeds are minimal, hand-weed only. O The best way to handle insects is to let nature take its course since only 1 percent of garden insects are pests.

O Do not overwater your garden after it is established, otherwise the plants that survive will be those that require extra water and the ones that can live on rainfall or minimal moisture will rot from being too wet. Grasses are best not fertilized and not placed where sprinkler systems will hit them. Most of these plants evolved in poor soils and with fluctuating moisture levels. Prairie Combinations One way to achieve a good mix of texture, height and interest is to follow a planting plan that balances seasonal wildflowers and grasses. To do this, divide your garden space into a grid. In a random pattern within each grid, plant one tall grass and one short grass for every four wildflowers. Tall grass: Indiangrass-Sorghastrum nutans; big bluestem- Andropogon gerardi; switchgrass-Panicum virgatum Short grass: little bluestem-Schizachyrium scoparium; sideoats and blue grama-Bouteloua curtipendula and gracilis; prairie dropseed-Sporobolus heterolepis; Canada wildrye- Elymus canadensis; prairie junegrass-Koeleria macrantha; sedges-Carex. Tall cool season wildflowers: rattlesnake master-Eryngium yuccifolium; white wild indigo-Baptisia lactea; spiderwort- Tradescantia ohioensis; Penstemon tubaeflorus; mountain mint- Pycnanthemum virginianum. Short cool season wildflowers: purple poppy mallow- Callirhoe involucrata; Missouri primrose-Oenothera macrocarpa; Anemone cylindrica; prairie smoke-Geum triflorum; Phlox pilosa; pasque flower-Pulsatilla patens. Tall warm season wildflowers and forbs: wild bergamot- Monarda fistulosa; pitcher sage-Salvia azurea; obedience plant-Physostegia virginiana; pale purple coneflower-Echinacea pallida; prairie coneflower-Ratibida pinnata; compass plant- Silphium laciniatum, Joe-Pye plant-Eupatorium purpureum; thickspike gayfeather-Liatris pycnostachya; showy goldenrod- Solidago speciosa; sky blue aster-Aster azurea; leadplant- Amorpha canescens; New Jersey Tea-Ceanothus americana; fleabane-Erigeron strigosus; black-eyed Susan-Rudbeckia hirta; prairie coneflower-Ratibida columnifera; Penstemon grandiflora; prairie ragwort-Senecio plattensis. Short warm season wildflowers: prairie onion-Allium stellatum; purple prairie clover-Dalea purpurea; butterfly milkweed-Asclepias tuberosa; black Sampson-Echinacea angustifolia; prairie coreopsis-Coreopsis palmata; dotted gayfeather-Liatris punctata; Missouri black-eyed Susan- Rudbeckia missouriensis; aromatic aster-Aster oblongifolius

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Prairies once stretched from horizon to horizon vast open spaces. (2019, Dec 03). Retrieved from

Prairies once stretched from horizon to horizon vast open spaces

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