Monday, June 29, 2015

A gorgeous prairie - in no time flat!

A lush prairie, teeming with colorful native wildflowers, stands in stark contrast to a lawn of empty emerald turf grass.

In 2012, I had had quite enough of looking out my office window and gazing onto a field of turf grass. For those of us into biodiversity, few substrates short of cement or tarmac could be more boring. So, I acted. I caught the ear of the people who manage our complex and its grounds, and in relatively short order a meeting was convened. Aided and abetted by some like-minded friends who also work at our Ohio Department of Natural Resources central office complex, we laid out our case for botanical diversification.

The powers-that-be were quite receptive, and now, at least on a third-acre or so, we have a vastly richer environment. I wrote a bit about this prairie's beginnings RIGHT HERE. I cannot thank the building and grounds managers enough for letting us act on this idea. Bob Kehres at Ohio Prairie Nursery was integral to the project, both in providing expertise and seed sources.

So, back in 2012 the entire area in the photo above was nothing but close-cropped turf grass. We planted in the spring of 2013, and saw results that very first year. The fledgling prairie was sparser in its inaugural year, but lots of colorful annuals sprang forth, beautifying our creation. Last year was better. More plants of more species emerged, and the overall vegetation grew thicker. Things were looking good.

I took the three photos in this post today, in between showers. I've been trying to thoroughly photo-document the prairie's progress, both in overall scope and in regards to the legions of insects and other animals that now use the site. The explosion of biodiversity has been fairly stupefying.

To me eye, that colorful patchwork of prairie is far showier than the lawn that preceded it. And it's a lot less maintenance. No mowing required. The first two years, some weeding was necessary to control some weedy species that in many cases were probably in the seedbank. This year, the prairie's third growing season, the amount of undesirable nonnative plants was probably two-thirds reduced from last year. The tough prairie plants are taking hold and outcompeting them. Before long, maintenance will mostly consist of just mowing the site once in early spring, prior to the growing season, and not much more.

Even though I've been there to watch our prairie mature, it still blows my mind that it could look like this in such short order. And it'll only get better. Both this year, and in the years to come. In general, prairies are at their showy best in July, so in the next few weeks it'll color up even more as more species come into bloom. As you might imagine, the flowering plant diversity attracts scores of pollinators and other interesting and valuable insects. An Indigo Bunting has even staked his claim on this prairie the past two years. We never had one stick around before. I should note that our office complex is in as urban an area of Columbus as one can find.

If you read this blog, you'd probably be interested in doing something like this too. I'm sure some of you already have. Here's a great tip to jumpstart your venture into native flora: Visit the Midwest Native Plant Conference in Dayton, Ohio on Saturday, July 25th. An impressive array of plant vendors will be present, peddling the coolest native flora imaginable. CLICK HERE to find a list of just some of the species that will be for sale. All are welcome, and pass the word.

If everyone planted a prairie, the world would inarguably be a better place.


Lisa Rainsong said...

My immediate reaction is to burst into applause! I'll bet this prairie will be full of insect song in the near future, and I'll be happy to come down and record the concert when the ensemble moves into the new concert hall!

Wil said...

This is amazing Jim. What a riot of colors and textures. I agree with Lisa, the songs from your prairie will be awesome as well. Great job!

Jim McCormac said...

Thanks Lisa and Wil! Yes, there has already been a marked spike in orthopteran numbers and diversity, and it should only get better. Our prairie is improving the soundscape; as you know, that's an angle of plant diversification projects that does not get its due.

Anonymous said...

Love this story and it's beauty. Gary Wayne

Rae Johnson said...

Good job Jim! I'm working on an acre prairie in my back yard. It's pretty showy now with more color on the way. Still fighting thistles, but I am hopeful they will eventually give up.
Rae Johnson

Judy Ganance said...

This is very inspiring as we need more examples of biodiversity in the urban areas. As we work on our school garden I am curious and enjoying research. Could you list the more successful of the selection of flora that was planted ? Or just tell us the name of the mix that was used from Ohio Prairie Nursery and I will go to their website ? Thanks Jim !

Nicole said...

I'm curious to know if areas like this harbor ticks. I'd like to do this to my own yard, at least to some extent, but my neighbors' cat got very sick from a tick last year, so I'm afraid to add more areas of untended apace.

Jim McCormac said...

Hi Judy, we got our seed from Ohio Prairie Nursery, and the mix is much like this one:

I've augmented it a bit with some special plants, too, but everything is native of course. The only exception is Indian-blanket, Gaillardia pulchella, but that was only in there as it's an annual and would provide a burst of color the first year. It's almost completely gone now, choked out by the native stuff.

Nicole, no, haven't seen any ticks.