Conservation of prairie and oak savanna remnants (i.e., the few remaining pieces of what was present here prior to European settlement) is the primary focus of The Prairie Enthusiasts. However, we also realize (and list below) the conservation benefits to be gained in planting prairie.
Notice we use the phrase “planting prairie” as opposed to “prairie restoration.” Prairies are complex communities, both with regard to the plants defining them, as well as the physical and biotic components associated with these grasslands. We are not able to replicate complex native prairie communities by planting prairie species. It likely requires hundreds, if not thousands, of years for a fully diverse community of prairie plants and animals to redevelop into a composition and structure equivalent to the original. In other words, plantings are not equal substitutes for remnants when it comes to prairie conservation. Therefore, plantings should not be considered a substitute for protection, restoration, and management of remnants. However, plantings do have an important role to play, given the massive devastation that has occurred to our Midwest prairies.
Conservation benefits from planting prairie
- Planting prairie adjacent to remnants, and as corridors connecting remnants, provide critically needed additional “elbow room” for rare and conservative prairie plants and invertebrates that are slow to establish/spread, difficult to propagate/move, or both.
- Creating large grasslands, especially when planting in the gaps between existing remnants, can provide critical habitat for many grassland bird species and other prairie/grassland animals that need large grasslands to be successful.
- Planting into degraded remnants (inter-seeding) can enhance the existing plant community and speed recovery (of course taking care to introduce only plants likely to be found at the site in the past).
- Plantings can act as seed sources, thus minimizing the need to collect seeds on remnants and thus reducing the chances of over collecting from the remnants.
- Plantings can be used as educational tools to increase awareness of prairie conservation, and provide opportunity for hands-on participation in conservation.
- Plantings can replace stands of non-native grasses with more complex plant communities that provide, on average, better wildlife habitat and improved soil conservation and water infiltration.
Therefore, TPE has a two-pronged approach to prairie and savanna conservation, with protection of remnants and planting of new areas, especially areas adjacent to remnants.
There are many successful methods and techniques for planting prairie. What will work best for you will depend upon available resources of time, money, and equipment, and the specific conditions of the planting site. Rather than attempt to cover all this ground on a webpage, we direct you to the following wealth of existing information on planting prairie vegetation. However, there is one important tip we want you to be aware of, which is:
Before you prepare a site for planting (e.g. till or use herbicides), be certain that a remnant prairie vegetation is not already present!
Books and pamphlets relevant to planting
- "Tallgrass Restoration Handbook: for prairies, savannas, and woodlands" (1997) ed. by C.F. Mutel and S. Packard. Island Press, Washington, D.C. 463 pp.
- "Practical Guide to Prairie Reconstruction" by Carl Kurtz in Iowa.
- "Plant Species Composition of Wisconsin Prairies: An aid to selecting species for plantings and restorations based upon UW-Madison plant ecology lab data", WI DNR Bureau of Science Services, Tech. Bulletin 188 (1998), PUBL-SS-188-98. Free from DNR Science Operations Center, 2801 Progress Rd, Madison, 53716 (608-221-6320).
- "Converting Pasture to Prairie", a presentation by Rich Henderson. (link)
Prairie seed companies with expertise in prairie plants and planting
Wisconsin Native Plant Sources provides a great list (in downloadable PDF format) of nurseries that sell native plants and seeds, and includes information about restoration and native ecosystems. Many of these companies have information on planting techniques on their websites or in their catalogs. Here are a couple good guidelines: