Prairie Establishment

Prairie Establishment

Part of Ep. 601 Landscaping with Wisconsin Wildflowers

Join Brian Bader, plant propagationist, as he lays out the options for preparing your site for plants and seeds.

Premiere date: Feb 28, 1998

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley:
The first step to a successful prairie planting is the site anaylsis. But equally important is preparing that site. We're at the UW-Madison Arboretum and I'm with Plant Propagationist, Brian Bader. Brian thank you for joining me on such a nice day.

Brian:
Well, thank you. Welcome to the Arboretum.

Shelley:
It's a beautiful day to be here. These late summer grasses and flowers are just gorgeous. And there's a special reason to be talking about establishing prairies here at the Arboretum, isn't there?

Brian:
Yes, we're in Curtis Prairie which is the world's first restored prairie. It was established in the 1930's with the help of the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Shelley:
I hope mine will look just this nice. I'm convinced I want one. I guess the first question then is when do I start it?

Brian:
Well, the time to start your soil preparation is in the springtime. And when you plant will depend on what the nature of your site is and how much soil preparation will be required.

Shelley:
Preparation, I think, meaning weed control. So, how do I decide then, based on my yard, when I'm going to actually do the planting?

Brian:
If you have a fairly good lawn, not like mine, with few weeds in it, then you can go ahead and start doing the site preparation. And if it's a really good lawn you can start spring and plant in late spring. Or, if you have a few weeds then you may need the whole summer and plant in the fall.

Shelley:
So, the weed problem is what depends on when I plant. Well, why don't we look at a typical lawn and you can kind of talk me throug the steps.

Brian:
Well, here, we have a typical bluegrass lawn situation with a smattering a weeds...

Shelley:
Not too bad.

Brian:
Not too bad. The purpose of the site preparation here would be to remove the existing vegetation, to reduce the weed competition and to prepare a seed bed to plant into.

Shelley:
How do you recommend we do that?
Brian:
Well, in this type of situation, I would recommend we um use a herbicide program with cultivation. Herbicide once, maybe twice with a broad spectrum glyfosate herbicide to remove the existing vegetation. And follow up with a shallow cultivation prior to planting.

Shelley:
What if we're dealing with a weedier situation, something rural maybe?

Brian:
In new subdivisions or rural settings where you have old field situations, then you have more weeds to contend with. And you may need to have two or three herbicide applications followed with cultivation.

Shelley:
So, the more weeds, the more herbicide applications we do. What if I don't want to use herbicides?

Brian:
Well, then, you can use a continual cultivation method. Tilling it. If your plot is really small, you could shovel it, turn it over with a spade. In this situation, you would need two to four shallow cultivations to remove, break up the sod and remove the weeds. In the old field situation, you would need to be much more aggressive about it. You would need to till every other week or after every rain to disrupt the germinating seeds.

Shelley:
You know, one of the reasons it's so important to do a proper site analysis is once these plants get established, you can't change your mind and move the prairie.

Brian:
That's right Shelley. Here we have a one year old Rattlesnake Master plant. You can see how much root development has occurred in one year.

Shelley:
In just one year?

Brian:
On average, prairie plants will put two-thirds of their growth into root development. Here we have a two-year-old root of butterfly weed with a one year old shoot. You can see how much root development occurs. You can even see where they cut it off.
Shelley:
So, it was bigger than that.

Brian:
It was bigger that that, right.
Shelley:
How big will something like that get?

Brian:
This plant, this root can grow up to about ten feet deep.

Shelley:
So, we're not going to change our mind and move these?

Brian:
No.

Shelley:
That leads to a good questions, though, when we're planting a prairie do we do seeds or plants?

Brian:
Well, that depends largely on the size of your site. Plants are more expensive, and thus are more suitable for small sites. They have the advantage, in that they will flower earlier. Often if you get 'em from a reputable nursery you can get plants that will flower in one to two years.

Shelley:
So, the rewards are quicker.

Brian:
That's right.

Shelley:
Also, I would assume they'd be a good idea for a slope situation.
Brian:
Yes, they can be used for controlling erosion where that's a concern.

Shelley:
So, seeds are probably better for a larger planting.

Brian:
Yeah, seeds are probably more cost effective for a larger planting. The downside of it is that you have to wait longer before you see your results.

Shelley:
So, it's tough for an impatient gardener.

Brian:
That's right. And you should anticipate having a couple of years where you're going to do some post planting maintenence. You'll see a lot of weeds at first. The young plants may only be a couple inches tall underneath the weeds. So, it's sometimes difficult not to get discouraged.

Shelley:
A young planting looks incredibly boring, basically.

Brian:
It can be rather weedy.

Shelley:
Is there a compromise between both?

Brian:
Yeah, I like to use both plants and seeds.

Shelley:
So you can do that?

Brian:
Yeah, I will plant a broadcast mix, a general mix throughout the site and add plants or special interest species to high visibility areas or other aesthetic concerns where erosion might be a problem.

Shelley:
Okay, great idea. Thanks Brian. So, remember, you'll have to put some effort in the beginning but it's well worth it. The rewards are great.

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