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The land that greeted early settlers to Ohio was an expanse of great forests, with a scattering of small and large prairie openings. Today, only fragments of those prairie openings have survived. Their beautiful grasses and prairie wildflowers may be used today in backyard gardens and public spaces.
When grown from seeds, a prairie garden may
take two, three or more years before flowers will
appear. For the fastest growth, use container-grown
plants. Seeds or plants purchased from
vendors specializing in Ohio prairie species will
give the best, most reliable results.
Many prairie plants are rare or endangered,
which means they are protected by law from
unauthorized collection. Unless you have
permission from the landowner, do not collect
seeds from an existing prairie. It is illegal to
collect seeds or plants from Ohio’s state nature
preserves, wildlife areas and other state lands.
When using seeds, site preparation is crucial. Be
sure to place seeds on bare, firm weed-free soil.
To keep weeds from dominating your garden in
the first few years, infrequent mowing may be
necessary while the small seedling prairie plants
are growing deep roots.
It is wise to use only those prairie species found
naturally growing in Ohio. The following is a list
of some beautiful, easy-to-grow prairie plants:
The biggest challenge for prairie gardeners is
controlling weeds during the first two or three
years. Prairie plants spend their early years
growing deep roots, while weeds grow quickly
above, crowding and shading the still-short
Weeds can be controlled using herbicides,
mulching and hand weeding. Young prairie
seedlings can be difficult to identify, so use care
By the third growing season, the annual
maintenance needed for most prairie gardens is
the removal of last year’s dead stems and leaves.
In early spring, the garden should be either
raked off or mowed down with a lawn mower.
Re-sprouting prairie plants need warm soils and
direct sunshine. Removing the previous year’s
stems and leaves will help new growth. The raked
off prairie material makes ideal weed-suppressing
mulch in other flower beds or vegetable gardens.
A mature prairie garden requires no covering,
no pruning, no spraying, no irrigation and no
fertilizer—saving the prairie gardener hundreds
of dollars in maintenance costs and hours of
labor. In fact, there will be little for you to do, but
enjoy your colorful natural landscape feature!
Prairie gardens, regardless of size, recreate
small examples of one of Ohio’s most beautiful
and rare ecosystems—the tallgrass prairie.
Easy-to-grow prairie plants are among nature’s
most spectacular flowers, producing blooms
of brilliant yellows, reds and purples. Native
prairie grasses and flowers are hardy species,
resistant to disease, pests and drought. Most
thrive in poor soils and once established,
require little maintenance.
An important first step in creating a prairie
garden is to choose an appropriate site. The
only requirement is adequate sunlight. Direct,
day-long sunlight is best, although many
prairie plants can grow with a half-day’s
sunlight. Shaded sites, with less than a half-day
of direct sunlight, will not support sun-loving
Prairie plants grow in three different soil types:
xeric (dry), mesic (moderately moist) and hydric
(wet) soils. However, they will thrive in a variety
of soil textures ranging from clay to sand, and
they will tolerate a wide range of soil fertility and
acidity. Dry and mesic prairie plants prefer loose
soil with good drainage. Wet species grow in
poorly drained areas, where water stands after a
heavy rain or soils are seasonally wet.
Some prairie species may visually enhance
problem areas, such as soggy areas or gravel hills.
Check the site requirement for each plant species
before planting them at your site.
Once you’ve selected your site, consider
developing a planting plan. Nurseries which sell
prairie plants or seeds may also carry reference
materials to help you select the best species for
your prairie garden.
For more detailed information, consider
contacting the Ohio Prairie Association at
www.ohioprairie.org or check with your local
Master Gardener program, often located in
your county’s extension office. The following
tips will help you design an attractive and
healthy prairie garden: