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A couple of scientists with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources have started a podcast. Why not? Everybody else has. Theirs is called Prairie Pod and here's the link:
On the podcast, they chat about how to grow a prairie. The podcast is aimed at land managers who are restoring prairies or planting new ones, and I am no land manager. But still, I'm a native plants gardener and I can learn a lot from smart people, so I listened. I learned that the sunny, or prairie, side of our cabin yard should have at least four types of species: cool-season grasses, warm-season grasses, forbs (plants with flowers) and sedges. The scientists also talked up legumes, the plants that fix nitrogen in the soil.
I have plenty of warm-season grasses, plenty of forbs (because who doesn't love flowers?), plenty of legumes (ditto, love my wild lupine and sweet fern), but I'm short on cool-season grasses and sedges.
Everybody who plants a sunny native plants garden focuses on warm-season grasses and so did I when I started this whole project about five years ago. Warm-season grasses are the kind that are slow to get going in the spring and reach their full grassy splendor late in the growing season. Here's a photo of one of my big bluestems (Andropogon gerardii) with some bee balm behind it:
And sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula) -- the first photo from last year and the second from this summer:
And little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), my favorite and everybody's favorite:
But I didn't really know anything about cool-season grasses, so I didn't plant any. Cool-season grasses start growing earlier in the season when the soil is still cool. I learned from the Prairie Pod scientists that they're valuable because they can compete more successfully with all the cool-season invasives that are itching to invade and wreck everything. I have plenty of those, crab grass and fescue among them.
I do have at least one cool-season grass in the yard, but I never planted it. It came up all on its own. And for the longest time I didn't know whether I should yank it or not. Now I've identified it as June grass (Koeleria macranthaand). It has a lovely round shape:
After listening to the podcast, I looked and looked for a nice little list of cool-season prairie grasses on the internet and couldn't find one. I had to call a native plants nursery and the woman who answered the phone seemed a little flummoxed. No one has ever asked that question before, she said. See? Cool-season grasses are somehow below the radar. She eventually offered a few suggestions and I'm going to plant a few of them this year and next, grasses like prairie brome (Bromus kalmii); and bottlebrush grass (Elymus hystrix). Those should grow well in our sandy soil.
Next post, I'll write about sedges, another neglected piece of my prairie puzzle. My ignorance of sedges is unfortunately as vast as the number of sedge species.
I'll end this post with a few photos of the prairie side of my yard from this past week: