A Practical Guide to Prairie Reconstruction
Publication Year: 2013
Published by: University of Iowa Press
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No living person today remembers Iowa when tallgrass prairie—a highly diverse community of drought-tolerant grasses, sedges, and wildflowers—stretched from the Mississippi to the Missouri River. Botanist Daryl Smith has written that nearly all of Iowa’s original prairie disappeared in the seventy years between 1830 and 1900, when settlers moved into the state. Most of North America’s 224,000 square miles of ...
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In order to understand what a prairie is, we first need to define it. The word “prairie” has many meanings. Some consider it an open landscape where the horizon is generally visible in all directions. Whether this landscape is planted to grass, grain, or indigenous vegetation is of little consequence. The word “prairie” may still have other meanings, but for the purpose of this guide, let us consider the definition of ...
Seed Selection and Harvest
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Seeding a prairie, as opposed to planting with live plants, is the only economical way to establish any area larger than a backyard garden. The greatest problem in planting a prairie is obtaining a diverse seed assortment at an economical price. We have already mentioned in chapter 2 that prairies often contain two to three hundred species in a complex association. However, most nursery catalogs list only ...
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Prairie soils, which support today’s agriculture so successfully, developed over a period of thousands of years. Research by David Montgomery, cited in the July 2008 issue of Scientific American, indicates that topsoil formation is a very slow process; it can take from 700 to 1,500 years to form an inch of soil. Before cultivation, the growth and subsequent death of the roots and crowns of prairie plants form humus in the upper ...
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Planting tallgrass prairie has many similarities to planting a garden or a field crop such as corn, soybeans, oats, or alfalfa. As with gardens and farm crops, it is far easier to start new plants in a weed-free environment. Tallgrass prairie planted by nature before the influence of Euro-American immigrants grew with little competition from weeds. Most alien weeds we know today (especially the annuals) were still ...
Old Pasture Seeding
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If you’re thinking about establishing prairie in an old pasture, here are some recommendations. Before doing anything to the site, take an inventory of what is growing there. We purchased an eighty-acre pasture fourteen years ago, and during the summer before we took possession we were able to make a list of nearly one hundred native species that were growing on the site. Generally it is best to allow the pasture ...
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There is no perfect time to seed tallgrass prairie. Successful plantings have been done in spring, summer, and fall. For many years we planted in mid to late June and found that we had fewer weed problems than we encountered with early spring seedings. There is also less chance of erosion from very heavy spring rains after mid June. Since some species of forbs need cold-wet stratification to germinate, they may ...
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The challenges of establishing and maintaining reconstructed or restored prairie communities at times require every tool at your disposal. If you have a backyard garden, your hoe may be all that you need, but if you are working with more than a few acres, hand-weeding is often out of the question for some problem plants. Thus, many land managers find the judicious use of herbicides an effective way to approach persistent problem plants, most of which are exotic species. ...
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Our postplanting mowing begins when annual weeds have grown twelve to fifteen inches high after a summer planting. If the seed was planted in the fall, you will need to start mowing in early to mid June. Summer weed pressure on previously cultivated cropland will likely consist of lamb’s quarters, velvetleaf or buttonweed, pigweed, yellow and giant foxtail, common and giant ragweed, nightshade, and smartweed. Mowing to a height of three or ...
Fire in Tallgrass Prairie
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Fire stimulates growth and development and can be used as early as the beginning of the third growing season. The prairie without fire quickly becomes unstable and gradually changes to woodland. Fire is a disturbance, but a necessary one if a prairie is to remain a prairie. Because the growing points of most plants are below the soil surface in early spring, they are protected from fire. Those who have watched a grassland ...
Growth and Development
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It is important to understand that considerable time is required for prairie to develop from seed to seedlings to a mature successional stage. Plantings that appear to be failures during the first two years can turn out very well. The first year of growth for most plantings rarely shows promise. Since seedlings first put down an extensive root system, they are difficult to find during the first weeks and months. In drier than normal years, there may be little or no visible ...
Questions and Answers
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You can first try to curtail seed production of these species through the process of summer haying or constant mowing. This should be followed by an application of Roundup, applied at a rate of at least three quarts of Roundup to twenty gallons of water per acre. This will kill the root systems. Late fall applications seem to be the most effective because the plants are storing food reserves in the roots then. ...
Seed Sources and Services
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Page Count: 80
Illustrations: 27 color photos, 2 maps, 1 table
Publication Year: 2013
Series Title: Bur Oak Book
Series Editor Byline: Holly Carver