Thursday, April 5, 2012

Prairie Garden - Old Part - Early April

Growth in the Prairie Garden is proceeding at a rapid rate.  Plants are roughly a month ahead of where they were last year.  The old portion of the Prairie Garden was mowed the first week of February and we’ve had above normal temperatures during the two months since then.  Plants that take their growth cues from soil temperature have emerged at a time when the top growth is still at risk from damage by a frost or freeze.  I know from experience that some of these plants cannot handle freezing and there will be a die-back of top growth when we get a frost.

The most obvious plant in the Prairie Garden at this time is the Western Sunflower.  These plants often survive the winter as a cluster of green basal leaves, so it’s not surprising that they take off as soon as the spring temperatures allow. 

Western Sunflower is an aggressive plant and will soon spread to take over just about any area.  It does produce viable seed, but most of the rapid expansion is through far reaching rhizomes that produce new plants.  The result is a large colony of clones. 

The grasses are coming on very quickly.  I’m wondering if the grasses will give more competition to the early blooming flowers.  This is a clump of Side-oats Gramma, which normally stays very short until the mid-summer months.

The leaves of the False Aloe are rapidly elongating.  These plants will produce flower stalks this year if they are not knocked back by a freeze.  At this stage they are highly susceptible to damage by a hard frost.

Purple Coneflower plants are showing some luxurious growth.

My population of Wild Nodding Onion still hasn’t increased in number.  The only plants I have are those protected by the wire cage.  Most of the seed produced by these plants has been scattered back into the garden, but no more plants have emerged.  I don’t know if the seeds are failing to germinate or if predators are eating the plants as quickly as they develop. 

The first Prairie Garden bloom this year is the Hoary Puccoon.  This is an early plant that is pretty much on schedule, but it usually doesn’t have all of this competing growth to deal with.

These young plants remain unidentified at the moment.  I’ll keep a watch on them until they reach a stage where I can either run them through the keys or I recognize what they are.  It’s not unusual for me to be baffled by a young plant in its early stages of growth.  One reason for this garden is to allow me to watch things grow on a day-to-day basis, so that I’ll be able to identify a plant the minute it sticks leaves above the ground. 


  1. Steve Wilson:
    "These young plants remain unidentified at the moment. I’ll keep a watch on them until they reach a stage where I can either run them through the keys or I recognize what they are."

    Reminds me of the Biblical Parable of the wheat and the weeds. When young they look like everything else. As they mature you can identify them by their fruits.

    I noticed you had a cage around your Nodding Onions. Do the herbivores love to eat them ? I only wished our season here in Sweden could progress as far as yours. It's still freezing here lately.

    Thanks , Kevin

  2. I think your unidentified one may be Dianthus armeria. I think of it as an innocuous adventive species, but knowing that you find non-natives anathema, this would be a good one to check up on for pulling later.

  3. I tried germinating Nodding Onions over the winter. I have them planted in the greenhouse now but so far none have grown.

  4. Is it to early for me to distinguish my prarie plants from weeds?

  5. Hi Kevin. Nodding Wild Onion seems to be a favorite of several local animals. Without the cage, they would probably disappear over night.
    Our temperature is falling fast tonight, so I expect to see frost in the morning.

    Thanks James. Dianthus armeria is common here, so it could easily have slipped into the garden. I'll keep an eye on it.

    Hi Biodiverse Gardens. I've germinated Nodding Wild Onion seed in pots on two occasions. The onions in the cage are from the first attempt and the results of the second attempt are still in their pot. I planted the seed in late summer and left the pots sitting outside over the winter. About 20 percent of the planted seed actually produced plants.

    Hi Mike. A lot of what you planted is just now germinating. It’ll be another month or six weeks before things are easily recognizable.