Wisconsin; Designing and Planting Your Prairie Garden - Westfield

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Wisconsin; Designing and Planting Your Prairie Garden - Westfield
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  Designing and Planting Your Prairie Garden by Neil Diboll Prairie Nursery P.O. Box 306 Westfield, WI 53964 USAwww.prairienursery.com 800-476-9453 A garden composed of native prairie flowers and grasses can be as striking and showy as anyEnglish border garden. In fact, the English were growing our “exotic” prairie flowers in theirgardens while we were busy plowing them up 150 years ago. By following a few simple designconcepts and selecting the right plants to match your soil conditions, you can create stunninggardens using native prairie plants.Not every prairie plant is a candidate for the garden. Some can be a tad bit aggressive, whileothers just aren’t showy enough to make the cut. The best prairie flowers and grasses for the homegarden are highlighted here, along with some great plant combinations. The concepts of plantecology and garden design are melded together to create sustainable, low maintenance perennialprairie gardens that require no insecticides, fertilizers or irrigation. I. Soil Conditions The various prairie plants are divided here into four groups based upon the soil conditions in whichthey grow best: Dry, Medium, Moist and Wet. These are defined below: Dry Soils are composed of extremely well-drained sandy or rocky soils that do not hold water andtend to dry out rapidly. A surprising variety of showy prairie plants will thrive in dry soils withoutthe addition of topsoil, fertilization, or irrigation. Many low growing prairie plants do best on drysoils. They maintain a shorter stature due to reduced availability of moisture and nutrients on drysoils. Dry prairies tend to have a high proportion of spring and fall blooming flowers. Medium Soils are loamy and clay-based soils with good drainage that do not experience standingwater. A wide variety of both short and tall prairie flowers and grasses thrive in medium soils.The peak bloom time for medium soil prairie gardens is mid-summer. Moist Soils tend to be regularly damp and may experience brief periods of standing water for afew days in spring or fall. The surface soil will usually dry out by late spring or early summer, butthe subsoil will be moist at a depth of one to two feet. Rain gardens are designed to grow in moistsoil conditions, where rainwater is captured in shallow depressions to encourage on-site infiltrationand groundwater recharge. Peak bloom time for moist prairie gardens is late summer and earlyfall. Wet Soils stay damp nearly year round, and moisture is generally available within one foot of thesoil surface, even in mid-summer. Wet soils are often flooded in spring. They can experiencestanding water for a week or longer in early spring, and for a few days after a summer downpour.Only the most moisture tolerant plants will thrive in wet soils. Peak bloom time for wet soils islate summer and early fall.   2 II. Garden Location and Layout Most prairie plants require a minimum of one half day of sun to develop and flower properly. Afew prairie flowers will also grow well in shady conditions. However, to optimize your prairiegarden’s blooming potential, it should be planted in a sunny location. The east, south, and westsides of a building or woods are excellent locations for prairie gardens. Avoid north sides of buildings and woodlands, as these are too shady to support good growth of most prairie plants.Planting a prairie “island garden” in a sunny lawn will create a strong focal point that draws theeye to the showy flowers and grasses. Some classic garden forms include circles, kidneys, andcurvilinear flowing beds. Rectangular “border gardens” can also be created using prairie flowersand grasses. Planting a border against a high wall or fence that serves as a background isparticularly effective for showing off taller plants. Some prairie flowers and grasses can reach sixto twelve feet high, and can be used to great effect when planted against a backdrop in a bordergarden.Large showy plants make for great specimens in the prairie garden. Some need plenty of room,such as White False Indigo (  Baptisia lactea ) and Blue False Indigo (  Baptisia australis ). Thesewill occupy a three foot diameter at maturity. Lower growing flowers and grasses should beplanted beneath these larger specimen plants to occupy the soil to prevent colonization by weeds.Other notable specimen plants include members of the genus Silphium , such as Compassplant( Silphium laciniatum ) and Prairie Dock ( Silphium terebinthinaceum ). These plants have largeunique leaves and flowerstalks up to ten feet tall. Please refer to the Section VII-F below for a listof specimen plants for the prairie garden. III. Designing Gardens with Prairie Flowers and Grasses 7 Ten Tips on Designing a Prairie Garden Using Live Plants The following tips on designing your prairie garden combine the principles of plant ecology withgarden design. You can select the ideas that you wish to apply in your garden and express yourown style using wildflowers and native grasses. 1) Plant Flowers and Grasses Together to create a naturalistic meadow effect. The dense rootsystems of the grasses dominate the upper soil rooting zone and help squeeze out weeds. Thegrasses will actually do much of the “weeding” for you by eliminating the open soil in which weedseeds germinate. The grasses also help support the wildflowers and moderate soil nitrogen levels,preventing excessive flower stem growth and reducing the need for staking. 2) Select the Plants to Match the Scale of your landscape. Use short flowers and grasses (1-5feet tall) in small prairie gardens. The short grasses, such as Little Bluestem, Sideoats Grama, andPrairie Dropseed are clump-formers that leave room between them for flowers. Use the tallflowers and grasses in back borders and areas where bold plants are desired. Tall prairie grassesand flowers can also be for screening undesirable views in late summer and fall when these plantsare at their peak.   3 3) Plant Flowers in Masses and Drifts of color to create drama and impact in the garden. It isrecommended that masses and drifts of flowers be over-seeded with a non-competitive prairiegrass such as Sideoats Grama to help keep weeds in check. Mass plantings of only one or twospecies of flowers will often experience weed problems due to a lack of grasses to squeeze outweeds. In a closely tended or heavily-mulched garden, this may not be a concern. 4) Inter-Plant Taprooted Flowers with Prairie Grasses and Fibrous Rooted Flowers . Tap-rooted flowers do not provide sufficient soil cover to prevent weed growth around them. Grassesand fibrous rooted flowers help provide soil coverage and fend off weeds when planted closelywith taprooted flowers (please refer to the list of Taprooted Flowers in Section VII-G below ). 5) Arrange Plants to Complement One Another , both texturally and in color combinations. Forinstance, plant the flowering spikes of the blazingstars (Liatris) in front of the bold foliage of Prairie Dock. Most prairie flowers mix well with the grasses, the green grass foliage serving as abackground that highlights the flowers. 6) Select Plants for Succession of Bloom throughout the growing season. This ensures thatsomething interesting is always going on in your garden. Remember that the prairie grasses willprovide a great show in fall and winter after the flowers are long gone. 7) Plant Tall Plants in Back, Short in Front . This rather obvious principle is essential insuccessfully displaying and enjoying your plants. Tall plants can also be used quite effectivelywhen planted against a wall, wooden fence, or similar background. 8) Include Spring Blooming Flowers in the garden. Many of the shorter, spring-bloomers aresome of the most attractive and delicate of the prairie flowers. Most spring prairie flowers godormant by mid-summer, and thus make good companions for a variety of other flowers andgrasses, tall or short. 9) Use Large “Specimen” Plants as architectural focal points in the garden. Surround individualspecimen plants with lower growing flowers and grasses to help them show off, and to controlweeds by occupying the soil rooting zone. 10) Use Ground Cover Plants for inter-planting among taller flowers and grasses and in areaswhere low growing cover is desired. These creeping plants will fill in gradually by nature of therunners they send out from the main plant. Once established, occasional weeding is all that shouldbe necessary to remove the few interlopers that find their way into the planting.By integrating the principles of ecology with those of garden design, you can create attractive,ecologically sound prairie gardens. These gardens will require no fertilizers, pesticides, orirrigation to keep them healthy and vibrant. Even during severe heat and drought, prairie gardenscontinue to perform while other plants succumb to the weather. And that ensures you of “moreflowers per hours” spent in the garden!   4 IV. Preparing the Site and Planting the Prairie GardenSite Preparation The area to be planted should be prepared for planting based upon the existing vegetation. Thiscan include:1) Manicured Lawn with no weeds2) Lawn with weeds3) Weedy infested area4) Bare soil from new constructionA Manicured Lawn that contains no weeds can be prepared easily using one of the methodsbelow:1)   Smother the grass with newspaper, cardboard, black plastic, old carpet, etc for two to threemonths during the growing season when lawn is green and actively growing2)   Spray once with ‘  Roundup ’ (glyphosate) herbicide in spring or early fall when grass is greenand actively growing3)   Dig out sod by hand and remove it, or rent a sod cutter and strip off the top two inches of grass Weedy Lawns can be prepared by following one of the following procedures:1)   Smother grass and weeds with newspaper, cardboard, black plastic, old carpet, etc for onefull growing season, starting in spring. Some weeds, such as dandelions, will not be killedwith only two to three months of smothering, and require a full season of to be killed.2)   Spray two to three times during the growing season with ‘  Roundup’ (glyphosate) herbicideat intervals of six to eight weeks in spring, mid-summer and/or early fall when vegetation isactively growing. This will kill practically all weeds. Quackgrass will likely require a fullthree sprayings throughout the year to kill it completely. A few broadleaf weeds are notreadily killed by ‘  Roundup’ , such as Canada Thistle, Field Bindweed, and Crown Vetch. If these are present on the site, a broadleaf herbicide will need to be added to the ‘  Roundup’  formulation in order to eliminate them.3)   Dig out sod and weeds by hand and remove everything. A sod cutter will not kill deep-rooted weeds, as it only removes the top two inches of soil and roots. Deep-rooted weedsand weeds with rhizomes will simply re-sprout and re-infest the new garden area. If quackgrass or other rhizomatous perennials weeds are present in the lawn, be sure to siftthrough the soil and remove every piece of root. A one inch long rhizome of quackgrasswill readily re-sprout and can grow up to three feet long in one year! Weed-Infested Areas are best prepared using one of the techniques below:1)   Smother vegetation with newspaper, cardboard, black plastic, old carpet, etc for one fullgrowing season. Some deep-rooted rhizomatous weeds, such as Canada Thistle, FieldBindweed, and Crown Vetch can survive an entire year of smothering, and will requirebeing covered for two years in order to assure control.
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