Prairie Talk: "Restoring" Prairie at Home

Spring buds of Prairie Smoke

Spring buds of Prairie Smoke

Restoring prairie acreage, like the FUMC prairie, are important acts of stewardship that help protect animal, bird, and pollinator habitat, and encourage carbon sequestration. What can we do to be more active stewards of God’s creation at home, in our own yards? Although we can’t recreate an entire prairie on a city lot, we can plant native plants or a pocket prairie. If you are thinking that my yard is so small, it won’t make a difference, think about the fact that the acreage of lawns in the U.S. is about three times the acreage of irrigated corn. Everything adds up. While many prairie birds and animals require larger acreage, like the FUMC prairie to survive, pocket prairies and planting native plants can provide spaces for pollinators and resting spots for migratory birds, the goal of efforts like the monarch highway. The FUMC prairie is designated a monarch waystation, where we have begun restoring native plant habitat. Your yard could also be a pollinator or bird resting spot.

Pocket prairies are more personal than large prairies. Pocket prairies offer a more intimate chance to appreciate the beauty of native plants and observe the pollinators and birds that visit them. All you need to do is walk out into your yard. You can watch the change of seasons and share the beauty of native prairie plants with friends and family. You could collect seed to contribute to prairie restoration or give them to friends to plant in their yards.

Blue Flag Iris

Blue Flag Iris

Plant selection is important. Some prairie plants, such as goldenrod, asters, and perennial sunflowers, spread aggressively through their extensive root system, and generally should be avoided in a home garden, unless you plan to thin them every year. Other plants, such blazing star (liatris) and purple coneflower, are more self-contained and can work well in a home garden or pocket prairie. You can learn more about plant varieties at the Field Guide of Minnesota Flora and choose plants that best fit your home landscape.

If you are interested in keeping prairie plants in garden beds and keeping your lawn for recreation, there are pollinator friendly alternatives to turf grass. Turf grass is expensive to maintain with costly fertilizers, herbicides, and regular watering that offers nothing to pollinators and birds. The University of Minnesota extension explains how planting low growing flowering plants can create a pollinator friendly lawn that looks attractive.

Wild Rose

Wild Rose

Shrubs are often over-looked as part of a prairie. Nineteenth century writings of land surveyors described many prairies as “shrubby.” Native species of dogwood, wild crabapple, wild plum, sumac, and wild roses are prairie shrubs than can be planted in a home garden, providing food and habit to pollinators and birds. They also play a role in carbon sequestration. In the FUMC prairie we are removing invasive shrubs, like oriental bittersweet, along the county ditch on the north side of our property and planting high bush cranberries. Dogwood and high bush cranberry are planted along the shed south of the main church building. There is a wild rose growing in the prairie near Pinecone Road. The Field Guide to the Flora of Minnesota has information that can help you identify a native shrub that would work in your yard.

Bee Balm

Bee Balm

Prairie that provides food and habitat to animals, birds, and pollinators is the most endangered habitat in North America. Work to restore prairies, like the FUMC prairie, are important acts of stewardship of God’s creation. We also are stewards of God’s creation at home. What we learn in restoring the FUMC prairie can help us be better stewards of our home gardens and lawns.