A prairie is a lawn alternative consisting of native vegetation that provides habitat for wildlife. With prairies, you will not require all the regular daunting tasks of lawn maintenance, watering, mowing, and cleaning. With some weed control measures, you are good to go – what a relief!
Lawns are attractive sites in any outdoor space, but with a million acres of land filled with the short grass in the US, wildlife is depleting by the minute due to lack of native plants.
Prairies are more like meadows apart from the fact that they contain more grasses. Unlike lawns, prairies support wildlife – It’s like going back to the days before you established that lawn in your front yard. Waking up to birds of all types and observing fireflies in the late evening!
Converting your lawn to prairie would undoubtedly be great for the environment. Besides, you don’t have to replace all your lawn with the native grass and wildflowers; you can design a section of your lawn.
There are two ways to convert your lawn to a prairie. You can decide to skip all the mowing sessions and allow the grass to grow naturally. This method is easy, cheap, and effective in establishing a prairie from your lawn.
On the other hand, you can remove the existing grass or kill it and replace it with annual or perennial plants and native grasses.
Table of Contents
1. Converting A Lawn with Native Grass to Prairie
If your lawn contains native grass, then you are lucky. All you have to do is stop mowing and allow nature to take control. This method is cost-effective, and you can easily convert your lawn to a prairie.
With this method, you’ll stop all the lawn care and maintenance practices. Controlling the weeds and annual mowing is, however, necessary for the prairie to thrive well.
To give it a more natural look, you can add some wildflower species to the lawn. To mention a few, Blazing-star, Cardinal Flower, Goldenrod, Purple coneflower, and Wild Lupine are some of the perennial wildflowers you can add.
Moreover, you’ll have to dethatch the grass before seeding the wildflowers.
In most cases, you’ll not even need to plant the flowers. Many wildflowers will come in before you even notice – Nature has its way.
Even though it’s the easiest method to take, it has its share of flows too. With this natural method, it’s hard for you to control which wild species inhabit your prairie. Your prairie could as well end up colonized by red foxes.
2. Converting A Lawn with Non-Native Grass to Prairie
If the grass in your lawn is not native, you’ll have to remove it and establish a prairie. It is a more cost and labor-intensive method.
Although it may seem like starting your prairie from scratch, which is expensive, with the low maintenance cost of prairie, this method pays off after a few years, and you won’t regret the spend! Besides, prairie keeps landscapes attractive for decades.
After removing the existing lawn, you’ll have to replace it with annual and perennial grasses and vegetation.
With precise guidelines in this article, you can easily convert a lawn with non-native grass to a prairie.
A. Select the Site
Establish prairie at a place with ideal conditions for its development; this ensures that it thrives well within the first years of its establishment.
Prairie requires an open environment with adequate air circulation and sunlight throughout the day. Places with stagnant air support the development of fungi, which leads to diseases among the plants.
Avoid areas that have excess weed growth. Besides, perennial noxious weeds will take a long time to kill, and they can potentially take over the prairie at its early stage.
B. Select the Plant
You’ll have to select the prairie plants that are native to your location. Besides, different plants grow well in specific soils. What is your lawn’s soil type? Is it clay or sandy?
Prairie seed mixes help match different soil conditions, and besides, this ensures the prairie looks great all year long. You can also choose specific plants that will perfectly blend to your desired effect.
If you have trouble finding native plants that will do well in your location, you can find help on the prairie moon website.
C. Prepare the Site
There are many ways which you can use to kill the existing lawn.
For small lawns, cover the grass with cardboard and mulch. The grass blades, thatch, and roots will decompose and make the soil nutritious for prairie.
You can also solarize the lawn using black plastic or by covering it with layers of newspaper. You’ll have to use wood chips to prevent the wind from blowing the newspapers.
If you intend to convert a large lawn to a prairie, then you probably won’t get enough cardboard to cover the whole place. You can opt to use a sod cutter or shovel to remove sod, which you can sell. Besides, those extra dollars will cover some of the costs of establishing a prairie.
If you’re not planning on sod removal, spraying the lawn with herbicides like roundup or repeated tilling will as well kill the grass.
Whichever method you use, ensure that you burn the thatch before prairie seeding. Thatch prevents seeds from reaching the soil surface.
Preparing a place with perennial weeds may take as long as a full year. It would be best to allow the weed seeds to germinate and later kill them to ensure that you leave no weed traces on the site.
Knowing the best time of the year to plant prairie seeds ensures that they will germinate well. Avoid seeding in the dry season. Seeds planted in early July and August will have a hard time growing. Although you can water, why go to all that trouble?
Spring is the best season to plant.
E. Plant Prairie Seeds or Plants
Depending on your preference, you can plant prairie seeds using any of the three methods below. Furthermore, you can opt for plants rather than seeds.
This method is a perfect fit for large acres of land. It causes less disturbance to the soil while minimizing the weeds.
With this method, you’ll have to till the soil before seeding. If you have sandy lawn soil, using a broadcast seeder helps improve the seeds’ contact with the soil.
This method is ideal for areas less than an acre.
F. Maintaining your Prairie
Before the prairie can fully establish, mowing is essential. For about three years, you’ll need to keep a close watch on the prairie to ensure that the weeds do not take over.
With practically every homeowner having a lawn, Lawns are taking more land in the United States than any other crop. Most people fail to understand that with prairie, you can keep your outdoor space just as attractive.
The native grass and wildflowers help create habitat for diverse wildlife species. Unlike a lawn, the prairie is easy to maintain; thus, the homeowner will work less.
Converting lawn to the prairie is a sure way to add value to the environment. You’ll need to decide whether you want to cover the entire turf with prairie or just a section of it – retaining a part of the backyard for the children to play around is not a bad idea.
You can easily convert natural lawns with native grass to prairie without killing the lawn. On the other hand, for those with non-native grass, you’ll have to remove the existing lawn before establishing a prairie.