Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Prairie Garden Burn Update

After withstanding several rains since being burned three weeks ago, the prairie garden is looking more barren and less charred. The rains have caused some erosion, but it’s nothing that will inhibit the desired plants from thriving.
I chose this location for the prairie garden because the soil was so poor and rocky that lawn grass wouldn’t survive. Those were the exact conditions I needed for the barren and prairie plants I hoped to grow. Conditions were great for the first couple of years, but the mass of prairie plants improved the soil so much by adding organic matter and providing erosion protection that weeds were able to become established. Non-native grasses are now continually trying to take over.

Bluegrass is usually only noticeable in the early spring. Within a month, the other plants will overtop and hide the Bluegrass from sight. The grass will still be in there competing with the other plants and if given the chance, will thicken into a tight sod. Even as scattered individual plants, the Bluegrass can provide detrimental competition to the native species.

Tall Fescue also takes advantage of the improved soil conditions. Fescue is more aggressive than the Bluegrass and is particularly hard on the native forbs. There are very few wildflowers that can maintain themselves in a sod of fescue.

Fortunately, these non-native grasses begin growth very early in the spring. After an early burn, they are the first plants to show new growth. At this stage, heavy infestations of grass can be safely sprayed with glyphosate herbicide with minimal risk to non-target species. Plants that have not yet begun to grow will not be harmed by the herbicide.

Before spraying, you do have to be sure there’s nothing growing that you don’t want killed. Even though most native plants have not begun to emerge, there are a few, like this Western Sunflower, that are up and going. The seedlings are a non-native called Black Medic. They respond much as the non-native grasses and are really thick following an early burn. The trick is to vary your management techniques so you don’t favor the same weed species year after year.


  1. Did I miss something? Where is the spot where you had the wet towel?

  2. I've seen where well meaning managers have sometimes fallen in love with using the same techniques year after year... And your prediction has come true at some Places... Very nasty weed problems.

  3. Lois, I'm waiting for the seedlings to get a little larger in the towel area before I show that area. I want to wait until I can idenfity everything that's coming up there.

    I've seen the same thing, Tom. I try my best to learn from other's mistakes.