Friday, February 10, 2012

Prairie Garden 2012

During late winter, as part of my management scheme for the prairie garden, I remove all of the dead growth from the previous year.  Last year, fire was my tool of choice and I burned the garden in early March.  The evening sunlight shining through the golden grass stalks gives the appearance of flame, as though the grass was begging for another burn.  This year, however, I’m going to mow the prairie garden as a way of removing that dead growth. 

At this angle, the appearance of the grass is more typical of what I see every day.  Since discovering larvae of the Unexpected Tiger Moth, an endangered species in Ohio, living on one of the Butterflyweed plants, I’ve decided not to use fire in this particular area.  The Unexpected Tiger Moth pupae overwinter just below the leaf litter near the base of their host plant.  Because fire removes the leaf litter and would most likely destroy the pupae, I feel that burning the prairie garden is no longer appropriate.

I’ve used blue flags to mark locations of a couple of cages that protect sensitive plants in the prairie garden.  The flags are placed so they are well below the cutting blades of the mower and anchored well enough that they shouldn’t pull free as the blades pass over.  The flags will allow me to easily reset the wire cages.

The Nodding Wild Onions have already begun their growth for the season.  While they are not looking exceptionally vigorous at this time, they are alive and will hopefully go on to produce an abundance of seed.  I’m still struggling to establish a stable population of Nodding Wild Onions in the garden.  Since something seems to knock them back each year, they are still receiving special treatment.  The blue marker will also allow me to avoid trampling or otherwise damaging the onions during the mowing process.  It bothers me that I have so much trouble growing what some people in the area consider to be a troublesome yard weed.

There are several other prairie plants that have begun their growth for the 2012 season.  These Round-podded St. Johnsworts have already put on a good bit of growth.

I accomplished the mowing with the help of the DR.  The DR is an easier tool than JR to use for small scale work.  I don’t typically cut thick woody vegetation with this mower, so the blade stays nice and sharp.  This allows me to get a clean cut of the grass.  It also has smaller tires and less potential for causing damage to growing plants.

There was a lot of material left on the ground after the mowing was completed.  The plants would go ahead and grow through this material, but since one of my primary objectives in maintaining the prairie garden is to observe the early growth of the plants, I removed the cut material to give me an unobstructed view of the ground.  A quick brushing with the leaf rake was all it took to adequately remove the material.

Following the raking, I replaced my cages and markers.  The ground is now clear enough to easily see what’s growing.  I’ll have no trouble monitoring the growth progress on into summer.

Adequate small material was left behind to afford some soil protection.  Some nutrients are lost with the removal of the top growth, but this area does not suffer from low fertility, so that won’t be an issue for plant growth.

Plenty of plants are poised and ready to shoot up as soon as conditions allow.  The Western Sunflowers always have some green leaves showing.  They’re one of those plants that seem to take advantage of the winter sunlight to produce some extra energy.


  1. I looked at your other burning posts. Are the western sunflowers up a little earlier this year? And what happened to the area where you used a towel last year during your burn?

  2. Hi Steve... Didn't you just have snow.. hard to believe there are things starting to grow..that's not happening here.. ; }
    Thanks for your encouraging comment on my post ..appreciate that!!
    I was hoping you might be able to tell me what kind of egg sack perhaps ( the little round ball like thing) was in one of my photos is the one on the juniper bush!!
    If it is spiders I still want to know so I won't go there in summer hahaha!!!

  3. Hi Katie. Basal leaves of the Western Sunflowers usually start to show themselves in late fall and persist through the winter.
    The area protected by the towel produced several Oxeye Daisies, an invasive species in Ohio. The fire seemed to have knocked them out of the rest of the garden. You can see a couple of pictures in my April 19, 2011 post. Check out posts with the Prairie Garden label to follow the progress of the garden through 2011.

    Hi Grace. We had snow a couple of days ago and it's snowing again now. Some plants grow no matter how cold and snowy it gets.
    The egg sac is indeed that of a spider. After they hatch, they'll all try to get away to establish their own territories, so the most unlikely place to find one would be beside the egg sac. If you do happen to find one, I'm sure it will be cute.

  4. Besides the garden,have you ever done any burning of a larger part of your property? I have 2 acres that could benefit from a burn,back in the old days when burning trash,burned about 3 acres of the neighbors field,looked great in the spring.

  5. Hi Rick. Besides the garden, I haven't done any burning at all. A prairie burn requires a proper burn plan and a certified burn team. That's not something that's readily available to the typical private landowner. Besides, I'm not convinced that burning is necessary in order to maintain a healthy prairie in this area. Everything I do is intended to demonstrate that a person with limited time, money and help can successfully manage these prairie areas.

  6. Burning (if all goes right) is cheap, effective, relatively easy (with good crew and equipment), and sometimes frankly a little exhilarating. These are why it's increasingly popular among large-scale land managers, but I must admit, often without carefully considered ecological justification. It does however have a long and increasingly well-documented precedent in the ecosystems of the world.

    But we don't live in the Holocene anymore. We're now in the Anthropocene, where the dominant ecological force is the collective activities of an almost unfathomable number of our own species. In heavily populated areas, the activities of landowners determine the fates of other resident species. If you, Steve, can manage your landscape for native biological diversity without fire, than go for it, and be an example to so many others who also feel uncomfortable about using fire. I'm use fire in my work, but I also study your posts carefully to learn from them, and pass along what I learn.

  7. James doesn’t have his own site, but he is a contributing author to Beetles in the Bush. Click on his name in the side bar at BitB and it will bring up his posts. BitB is in my "Blogs I Follow" list.