Prairie Garden

Wild flowers and grasses enhance the natural look and appeal of the prairie gardening theme.

Picture fields of tall grasses and wildflowers growing in the breeze and you’ve got the basic idea behind a prairie garden.

Prairie gardens mimic this natural look, and they have a lot of advantages that may make them the right choice for you.

They help to preserve native wildflower species that may be in danger due to over-development and elimination of prairie habitats

They require less maintenance in terms of mowing and weeding, which means less money spent on gas for the mower and less time spent in your gardening gloves.

Prairie gardens also don’t require as much pesticide or fertilizer use as a regular garden or yard, and they’re also attractive to butterflies, birds, and other forms of wildlife.

Read on to learn more about how to design your prairie garden landscape!

Prairie Garden History

Prairies used to be a common sight from Texas all the way up into Canada and from Colorado all the way across to Ohio. In fact, the prairie habitat was the most common of them all. Unfortunately, about 99% of those prairies have been eliminated through new construction, and native plants are being choked out by invasive species.

The removal of habitat has affected both plant and animal life, and recent interest in conservation has led many people to start looking for more natural ways to maintain their yards and gardens. The prairie garden is a natural offspring of those efforts.

Prairie Garden Characteristics

When you picture a prairie garden in your mind, you may be thinking of tall, unkempt looking grasses that would obscure your grass and make your neighbors think that you’re too lazy to mow. On the contrary, prairie gardens can be natural looking without bothering your neighbors or losing your mailbox in a sea of ornamental grasses.

There are actually different kinds of prairies, which are mainly identified by the size of the grasses and plants that grow there. Prairies range from tall grasses to short grasses, so you should have no problem finding something that will suit your landscape and satisfy your neighbors at the same time.

Natural rock planting beds work well in the prairie garden style, giving form and structure without detracting from the natural shape of your prairie garden layout.

In order to make your prairie garden a success, it’s best to start off with an empty slate. This means that you don’t want any plants in the area. If you’re lucky enough to have a completely empty bed, terrific! But if you’re converting an area or an entire yard into a prairie vista, you’ll need to make sure to completely eliminate all of the plants in the area.

There are really three ways to accomplish this. You can cover the area with a tarp or a thick layer of newspaper held carefully in place with rocks or brick. The unfortunate part about this process is that it takes about two months to completely kill off grasses, so if you’re working with an area that’s visible from the street, this may not be the best choice for you.

The second choice is to completely turn the soil once, and then again in two weeks, and then a third time in two more weeks. The last and quickest method is to use a herbicide containing glyphosate.

Since the prairie garden is mainly made up of grasses and wildflowers, it is easily taken over by weeds and woody plants, so your main task will be to pull out plants that don’t belong. By removing sprouts before they turn into saplings, you’ll protect your delicate ornamental grasses. Also, since your plants are relatively small, most species will have fairly shallow roots. Most prairie plants don’t respond well to wet, marshy places, but in a draught you’ll definitely need to give them a little water.

Prairie Garden Layout

  • You want a natural look in a prairie garden, but still follow some basic garden design principles. Plant your tall grasses and flowers at the back of your beds and the borders of your garden. They’re especially handy when it comes to obscuring ugly views and blocking our sounds.
  • Place smaller species up front where they can be seen and enjoyed
  • Plant species in clumps, but mix up the flowers in each area to create a pleasing combination of colors and shapes. When you think of a field of wildflowers, you see a sprinkling of color throughout the area rather than a concentration of flowers in one specific area. As best as you can, try to mimic that
  • Even though you’re trying to create a natural prairie look, you can and should still select flowers for dramatic impact. Border a gate or entryway with some bright colors or showy blooms not found elsewhere in the garden, or highlight a particularly impressive species by showcasing it in a planter
  • Pathways can be any material you like. If you favor gravel or woodchips, however, you’ll need to do some upkeep to make sure that the area stays plant-free. Another attractive option is to lay pavers or fieldstone and allow some groundcover to become established in the gaps between the stones
  • It’s a good idea to start with at least a few potted plants. Remember that seeds take a long time to grow, and you should be starting with a blank slate. You’ll have a lot of hard work keeping invasive plants out of the area while waiting for your seeds to germinate, and then you’re not going to have flowers for a season or two

Plants to Use in a Prairie Garden

When it comes to establishing a prairie garden, you get double duty in terms of plant selection. Not only do you need to select the wildflower species, but you also need to select some grasses.

You can limit yourself exclusively to taller grasses or shorter ones, or you can mix the two in the same area to create a graded effect. Some tall grasses that you might consider include big bluestem, bottlebrush grass, and switchgrass. Some common and attractive short grasses include little bluestem, palm sedge, and vanilla sweetgrass.

Plant wildflowers such as prairie roses to give your garden design the wild and natural look of the American prairie landscape.

Some popular flower choices for a Prairie Garden include:

  • Aster
  • Black eyed susan
  • Columbine
  • Coneflower
  • Coreopsis
  • Indigo
  • Milkweed
  • Orchid
  • Phlox
  • Sunflower

Prairie Garden Accessory Suggestions

Some accessory ideas to integrate into your Prairie Garden include:

  • Place a rustic wooden bench or swing along a long path so that visitors can sit and watch the grasses sway in the breeze
  • Display a collection of old metal watering cans. You could display them in a bunch or use them to line a pathway
  • Place brightly painted birdhouses on tall posts in the middle of a field or bed of wildflowers

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