Tag Archives: prairie restoration

The Prairie Ecologist Article: Lessons From a Project to Improve Prairie Quality – Part 2: Overseeding and Seedling Plugs

Last week, I posted a summary of some findings from a long project to enhance prairie habitat. I focused that post on the lessons we learned from the fire/grazing management portion of the project, including impacts on regal fritillary butterflies. This week, I’m looking at the other half of that project – overseeding and adding seedling plugs to our degraded prairies in order to increase plant diversity. As with last week, you can find all the gritty details, including graphs, tables, and more, by looking at our full final report.

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Maximilian sunflower is one of the species we’ve found easiest to establish in degraded prairies. (These particular sunflowers are for illustration only – not from an overseeded site.)

During the five years of the project, we overseeded approximately 500 acres of prairie – focusing mostly on degraded remnant (unplowed) prairies that were missing many characteristic prairie wildflower species. We harvested our own seed from nearby sites, and broadcast it on degraded prairies right after burning them. The prairies were managed with patch-burn grazing, so cattle grazed those burned areas intensively for the remainder of the first growing season and then focused their grazing elsewhere in subsequent years. To measure success of the seedings, I used replicated plots to count the number of new plants that established from seed. Most of the seedings included multiple seeding rates, so I was able to look at the effect of seeding rate on establishment.

In addition to overseeding, we raised and transplanted more than 800 prairie and wetland seedlings into seven different sites, and added several hundred more seedlings to our nursery beds for seed production. Most transplanting was done in the late spring, and plants were watered on the day of transplanting but afterward. We marked (GPS and flags)and attempted to re-locate seedling plugs to evaluate survival, but that didn’t work out very well, and we didn’t find a lot of the plants we’d plugged in. Some of those plants surely died (which prevented us from finding them), but for others, flags disappeared and GPS points weren’t accurate enough to lead us to the small plants we thought were probably there. We did find some, but our estimates of success are pretty fuzzy.

We learned two major lessons from this portion of the project:

1. Overseeding after a burn in a patch-burn grazed prairie can re-establish at least some missing plant species, but the use of a high seeding rate is important.

2. Overseeding seems to be more cost effective than seedlings, assuming abundant seed can be obtained relatively cheaply.

In tallgrass prairies further to the east of us, people have had pretty good, if inconsistent, luck with overseeding prairies without necessarily having to suppress the vigor of surrounding vegetation. We’ve tried that here, and have seen very low success, maybe because our drier climate (25 inches of precipitation per year) increases competition for moisture? Regardless, our best results have come from seeding after a burn – for good seed/soil contact – followed by grazing of the dominant grasses that appear to be the primary competition for new seedlings. Patch-burn grazing works well, but we’ve also had good luck in the past by just grazing intensively for a month or so after seeding, and then pulling the cattle out.

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Trails from our ATV and broadcast seeder in recently burned prairie. Broadcasting after a burn helps get the seed/soil contact we need. Experiments with light harrowing as a way to get even more soil contact haven’t shown any obvious results. Note the absolute straight lines I made as I planted this site…

Seeding rate was very important. We started by seeding at about the same rate as we use when we converting cropland to high-diversity prairie – about 1-2 lbs of bulk forb seed per acre. As the project went on, we went as high as 8 lbs, and continued to see better results. At least in our prairies, seeding smaller areas with more seed seems to be more effective than spreading limited seed over large areas.

Because others have incorporated light tillage or harrowing to suppress competition and increase seed/soil contact, we tried some of that as well, but our results were mixed. Some tilled plots showed very high establishment, but others showed less than non-tilled plots. We did find that when we tilled a few inches deep, we didn’t seem to kill any plant species – remembering that these are degraded sites already. I would definitely not recommend that others try tillage on a large scale, but in small plots within degraded grasslands, it’d probably be worth some more experimenting. We had a beautiful set of replicated tilled plots that I hoped would clarify the situation in 2012, but the severe drought overwhelmed that attempt.

Even at our highest seeding rates of 8 bulk pounds of forb seed per acre, the density of established plants was relatively low (in our best sites, we established around 150 new plants per acre) but hopefully high enough to create self-sustaining populations that will grow over time. The plant species that established most readily included:

Maximilian sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani)
Sawtooth sunflower (Helianthus grosseserratus)
Stiff sunflower (Helianthus pauciflorus)
Illinois bundleflower (Desmanthus illinoensis)
Entire-leaf rosinweed (Silphium integrifolium)
Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)
Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
Purple & white prairie clover (Dalea purpurea and D. candida)
Canada milkvetch (Astragalus canadensis) – in some sites
Illinois tickclover (Desmodium illinoense) – in some sites
In terms of seedlings, we have found that most prairie plants are easily grown in greenhouse situations (with some exceptions) but that some take more than a year to germinate, and then perhaps a full year or more to grow large enough to transplant. When we planted the seedlings into prairies, we clumped them together in groups of 5-10 plants to help form populations that could cross pollinate, and to make it easier to find at least one of the plants we’d put in.

TNC greenhouse Platte River Prairies.

Compass plant seedlings and others in our greenhouse.

We had success with seeding plugs in some situations – particularly in terms of getting wetland sedge species established in restored wetlands – but transplant survival in degraded mesic prairies was mixed at best. Most of our transplanting was done in the late spring, as we hoped to synchronize our planting with the wettest time of the year, but we may experiment with more fall planting in the future. We felt that many of our seedlings may have died because they weren’t in the appropriate soil conditions, which we had to guess at since there were no existing populations of most of the species we were transplanting. Broadcasting seed is probably a better way to match up appropriate plant species with their specific microhabitat requirements.

In our situation, it appears that overseeding is a cheaper and more efficient way to increase plant diversity in degraded prairies. Of course, one big reason it makes sense for us is that we have existing capacity for large-scale seed harvest. If enhancement of degraded prairies is a high priority for a landowner or land management entity, it might make sense to build their own seed harvest capacity. That doesn’t necessarily mean large investments in equipment or people, though a pull-behind seed stripper or combine can be a nice way to harvest large amounts of seed quickly. Large amounts of wildflower seed can also be harvested by hand (our typical method) if you are efficient and organized.

By Chris Helzer from The Prairie Ecologist Website

For All Your Native Wildflowers & Seeds Visit Us At Our Website Native Wildflowers & Seeds From Ion Exchange, Inc.

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The Prairie Ecologist Article Lessons From a Project to Improve Prairie Quality – Part 1: Patch-Burn Grazing, Plant Diversity, and Butterflies

We recently completed a large multi-year restoration and management project at our Platte River Prairies. Our specific objectives were to improve habitat quality for various at-risk prairie species and evaluate the impacts of our management on at-risk butterflies – particularly regal fritillaries. The project was supported by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, who funded our work with two State Wildlife Grants (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service money). Over five years, we conducted fire/grazing management in our prairies and enhanced plant diversity through overseeding and seedling plugs. We measured the results of that work by measuring changes in prairie plant communities and by looking at the use of our prairies by regal fritillaries and other butterflies.

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We’ve worked hard to get plant diversity in our restored prairies, including this one. We wanted to know whether or not our management was maintaining that diversity, and also how it was affecting butterflies. The prairie shown here was being grazed at the time of the photo – July 2009. The Nature Conservancy’s Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.

The following is a brief summary of the major lessons we’ve gleaned from the fire/grazing component of the project, including implications for future management and restoration work. I will summarize the overseeding/seedling work in a separate upcoming post. If you want more details, you can see our entire final report to the funding agencies here. As a warning, the report is 14 pages long, with an additional 21 pages of Appendices, full of tables and graphs.

What We Did
Between 2008 and 2012, we treated over 1,500 acres of prairie with varying applications of patch-burn grazing management. During that time, we altered the timing of burning and the intensity of grazing from year to year, and included years of complete rest from grazing in some prairies. For the purposes of this project, we evaluated the results of our work in two main ways:

– We measured changes in plant diversity and mean floristic quality.

– We conducted three years of butterfly surveys to evaluate how regal fritillaries and other butterfly species responded to our restoration and management work.

What We Learned

Here are the seven major lessons we learned from this project. Some of this information has been covered in previous blog posts, so in addition to providing you the link to our full final report for this project, I am also providing links to blog posts in which I covered these topics more completely.

1. During our use of prescribed fire and grazing, plant diversity and mean floristic quality have been either stable or increasing in most of our prairies. This holds up when looking at both short-term (3-4 years) and longer term (up to 10 years) data sets. In addition to collecting data on the overall plant community, we also tracked individual plant species. Even conservative forbs (those most vulnerable to prairie degradation) are maintaining stable populations.

With a few exceptions, we haven’t been able to compare patch-burn grazing against other management techniques (fire only, other grazing systems, etc.) in our prairies, so we can’t say our patch-burn grazing is better at promoting plant diversity than those other alternatives. However, we have been able to increase or maintain plant diversity while creating a mosaic of habitat patches that we think benefits a wide range of plant and animal species.

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Patch-burn grazing helps us maintain diverse plant communities while also creating patchy habitat that benefits many insect and animal species.

2. Periodic complete exclusion of grazing appears to be important to prevent annual grazing of a few plant species. Within our patch-burn grazing systems, cattle mostly constrain their grazing within recently burned patches to the exclusion of unburned areas. However there are a few plant species that cattle appear to seek out and graze regardless of whether they are in burned or unburned patches. These include common and showy milkweed (Asclepias syriaca and A. speciosa), Canada milkvetch (Astragalus canadensis), and entire-leaved rosinweed (Silphium integrifolium).

All three plant species are still surviving in prairies that have been grazed annually for 10 years or more, but the vast majority of individuals within each species are being grazed each year before they can flower. If that continues, they will probably disappear over time, as existing plants die off without replacing themselves. To prevent this, we are building periodic exclusion of grazing into each of our pastures, either by pulling cattle out of the pasture for a whole year now and then, or by using electric fence exclosures that shift in location from year to year.

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Rosinweed is often targeted by cattle regardless of whether it’s in a burned or unburned patch. Completely excluding cattle from prairies now and then allows rosinweed and a few other cattle favorites to bloom and recover their vigor.

3. We can increase plant diversity in prairies dominated by invasive grasses, but it is less important to measure the extent of invasive grasses than it is to measure plant diversity. I dealt with this topic extensively in a recent post on Kentucky bluegrass, so I’ll skip over most of it here. Basically, we’ve found that we can increase plant diversity without necessarily decreasing the frequency or abundance of invasive grasses. Because of that, measuring the invasive grasses might indicate a failure in our management, even though we’re achieving our ultimate objective.

4. Butterflies are nectaring primarily on ”weedy” wildflower species in our prairies. Again, I’ve dealt with this in a previous post. Essentially, regal fritillaries and most other butterfly species in our prairies are primarily nectaring on hoary vervain (Verbena stricta), thistles (Carduus nutans and various Cirsium species), and milkweeds (Asclepias species) – which are considered to be weeds by many people. Those “weeds” appear to be awfully important to butterflies and other pollinators.

5. Regal fritillary populations appear to survive well under patch-burn grazing management despite some mortality from fire. This was one of our most important findings from this project, and it backs up similar results from Ray Moranz from Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, and Iowa prairies. In fact, we worked with Ray to mimic his survey techniques to allow us to compare results more easily. In our prairies, we are certainly killing regal fritillary caterpillars with our spring burns. However, regals are doing very well in the unburned portions of our sites, which make up 2/3 to ¾ of the total area in most years. Could we have higher numbers of regals if we weren’t burning? Maybe, but we’d certainly see decreases in other species we also think are important, and it’d be much more challenging to keep invasive and aggressive plants at bay and create heterogeneous habitat structure.

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It was valuable to look at our prairies through the eyes of regal fritillary butterflies. We gained a greater appreciation for the importance of “weedy” plants such as the hoary vervain shown here. We also saw how well our restored prairies complement our remnants.

6. Our restored (formerly cropped) prairies appear to be complementing our degraded remnant (unplowed) prairies in terms of nectar resources. Most regal fritillary production – egg laying, larval feeding, and emergence as adults – seems to occur in thatchy portions of our remnant prairies, where we have high populations of violets (the sole food plant for larvae). However, once the adults emerge from their chrysalises and mate, they tend to spend much more time in our restored prairies, where the abundance of nectar plants is much higher. Since the main objective of our restoration work is to increase the effective size and function of our fragmented remnant prairies, this result is very encouraging.

7. While we looked only at butterflies for this project, we did some work with bees over the same period, and as we synthesize all of our pollinator work there are some apparent lessons that emerge. We know that to maintain plant diversity, it’s important to allow all desired plant species to bloom and complete their life cycles periodically. Because plant species respond differently to management treatments, that means varying those treatments from year to year. However, from a pollinator standpoint, it’s also important to stagger those management treatments across the landscape to maximize the availability and diversity of blooming plants for pollinators at any one time.

Because most bees, for example, have a very limited range of travel from their nest, haying or burning an entire 200 acre prairie at once would mean that the only plant species available for bees are those that do well under that management treatment. Since many bees are specialists on certain flower species, that can have important consequences for those bees, as well as for bees that need a variety of flower species in order to maintain steady food supplies. For bees and other pollinators (and likely many other species) it’s probably important to scatter a range of management treatments across space so that wherever a bee nests, there is a large variety of flowers available to it. However, I don’t know how to decide how many management units to use within a prairie, or how big each should be. I’ll explore this topic more in a future blog post.

Summary

As always, we still have a lot to learn about how to manage prairies for the diversity of species that live in them, as well as for overall ecological resilience. However, this project helped us better understand the impacts of our fire and grazing management on plant diversity and floristic quality. More importantly, it pushed us to look at the impacts of our management through the eyes of species other than plants – particularly butterflies. Overall, I think we’re doing well for both plants and butterflies, but we also learned some lessons that will help us tweak our management to benefit both.

Article From The Prairie Ecologist Website By Chris Helzer

To Purchase All Your Native Wildflowers & Prairie Plants Visit Our Website at Ion Exchange, Inc.

‘Prairie Therapy’ Soothes Psychiatrist, Autistic Son Article

When psychiatrist Elizabeth Reeve needs to unwind and recharge her mental batteries, she heads to the prairie.

Not the wild prairie, but the one she and her husband have painstakingly restored at their weekend home in southeastern Minnesota.

“It’s therapeutic — an opportunity to get outside and think in a different way,” she said.

She loves walking its five gently rolling acres and seeing what’s blooming and growing.

The prairie helps Reeve maintain the balance she needs to juggle a very full life. In addition to her practice, which focuses on autism and other developmental disabilities, she recently was named Minnesota’s Psychiatrist of the Year by her peers and published a book, a survival guide for kids with autism spectrum disorders and their parents.

It’s a subject Reeve knows not just clinically but personally, from raising an autistic son herself. Born during her residency, he’s now 24 and lives at home.

“Having a disabled adult child changes your perspective — it changes the whole plan,” Reeve said.

In a way, that changed plan helped lead Reeve’s family to the prairie. “We were looking for land to build on when we retired,” she said. “My son doesn’t drive. He has to live in an urban environment because he takes the bus. The long-term plan is he’ll have the house (in Minneapolis) and we’ll retire down here.”

Reeve and her husband, Mark Conway, alpine-ski-racing coach for the Minneapolis school district, were driving in the rural area when they saw a “for sale” sign. They liked the 1995-built house with its post-and-beam construction, and the 20 wooded acres surrounding it. The previous owner, who built the house, had already started a prairie restoration on what used to be a cornfield.

Reeve, an avid gardener, and Conway decided to buy the land and continue the restoration. Their work includes “burns,” torching the landscape to eliminate non-native plants. “The natives have deep roots; they’ll come back, but the noxious weeds are superficial,” Reeve said.

“You need a crew, so it doesn’t get out of control,” Reeve said. “The first year I was absolutely terrified. Afterwards it looked like a lava field.”

It was hard to imagine that the scorched earth would ever support life again. But before long, native plants began to reappear, denser and more vigorous than ever.

Last year, the couple did a second burn and Reeve took part, donning a firefighter’s suit, laying a “water line” around the perimeter, then using a flamethrower to ignite the landscape.

The two prairie burns have transformed their landscape dramatically, Reeve said. They now have 50 to 60 native species, including wildflowers, native grasses and medicinal plants.

“We’ve worked really hard to expand the diversity,” Reeve said.

She also harvests seeds, drying them and scattering them to produce more native prairie plants.

Reeve is fascinated by the variety of native species now thriving on their land. She points out a compass plant, so-named because it orients its leaves to point north-south, and a purple hyssop. “If you smell the leaves, they smell like licorice,” she said. When she finds a new one, she marks it with a little flag. “So in theory, I can find them again,” she said.

When Reeve isn’t tending the prairie, she’s tending their large garden.

“We don’t buy any vegetables,” she said. “There’s nothing better than out-of-the-garden fried red potatoes for breakfast.”

Does she ever, like, relax on weekends?

“This is relaxing,” she said with a smile.

Being outdoors in the natural world restores balance and well-being for their whole family, she said. Her adult son loves splitting wood. Her younger son, Luke, likes playing “Star Wars” on the prairie and helping reseed the native plants, sometimes both at the same time.

Kids, and in particular, kids with ADHD, benefit from being outside, doing physical things, Reeve said, rather than being inside playing with electronic devices all day. “Research shows that lack of (outdoor activity) decreases people’s creativity,” she said. “It’s not rocket science. People who get out and take a walk feel better than people sitting inside all day.”

Spending time in her prairie helped her write her book, she said, and she hopes to write a second. “I want to do a book for high-school students and young adults with autism — helping them live with it,” she said.

Even the drive back to workday reality, on rural roads vs. a crowded rush-hour freeway, is a relaxing transition, she said. “I’m absolutely fresher Monday after being here. It starts the whole week off completely differently.”

Article By Kim Palmer
Minneapolis Star Tribune

Ready To Start Your Own Prairie?

Please Visit Our Website & Let’s Get Started Ion Exchange, Inc.

‘Prairie Therapy’ Soothes Psychiatrist, Autistic Son Article

When psychiatrist Elizabeth Reeve needs to unwind and recharge her mental batteries, she heads to the prairie.

Not the wild prairie, but the one she and her husband have painstakingly restored at their weekend home in southeastern Minnesota.

“It’s therapeutic — an opportunity to get outside and think in a different way,” she said.

She loves walking its five gently rolling acres and seeing what’s blooming and growing.

The prairie helps Reeve maintain the balance she needs to juggle a very full life. In addition to her practice, which focuses on autism and other developmental disabilities, she recently was named Minnesota’s Psychiatrist of the Year by her peers and published a book, a survival guide for kids with autism spectrum disorders and their parents.

It’s a subject Reeve knows not just clinically but personally, from raising an autistic son herself. Born during her residency, he’s now 24 and lives at home.

“Having a disabled adult child changes your perspective — it changes the whole plan,” Reeve said.

In a way, that changed plan helped lead Reeve’s family to the prairie. “We were looking for land to build on when we retired,” she said. “My son doesn’t drive. He has to live in an urban environment because he takes the bus. The long-term plan is he’ll have the house (in Minneapolis) and we’ll retire down here.”

Reeve and her husband, Mark Conway, alpine-ski-racing coach for the Minneapolis school district, were driving in the rural area when they saw a “for sale” sign. They liked the 1995-built house with its post-and-beam construction, and the 20 wooded acres surrounding it. The previous owner, who built the house, had already started a prairie restoration on what used to be a cornfield.

Reeve, an avid gardener, and Conway decided to buy the land and continue the restoration. Their work includes “burns,” torching the landscape to eliminate non-native plants. “The natives have deep roots; they’ll come back, but the noxious weeds are superficial,” Reeve said.

“You need a crew, so it doesn’t get out of control,” Reeve said. “The first year I was absolutely terrified. Afterwards it looked like a lava field.”

It was hard to imagine that the scorched earth would ever support life again. But before long, native plants began to reappear, denser and more vigorous than ever.

Last year, the couple did a second burn and Reeve took part, donning a firefighter’s suit, laying a “water line” around the perimeter, then using a flamethrower to ignite the landscape.

The two prairie burns have transformed their landscape dramatically, Reeve said. They now have 50 to 60 native species, including wildflowers, native grasses and medicinal plants.

“We’ve worked really hard to expand the diversity,” Reeve said.

She also harvests seeds, drying them and scattering them to produce more native prairie plants.

Reeve is fascinated by the variety of native species now thriving on their land. She points out a compass plant, so-named because it orients its leaves to point north-south, and a purple hyssop. “If you smell the leaves, they smell like licorice,” she said. When she finds a new one, she marks it with a little flag. “So in theory, I can find them again,” she said.

When Reeve isn’t tending the prairie, she’s tending their large garden.

“We don’t buy any vegetables,” she said. “There’s nothing better than out-of-the-garden fried red potatoes for breakfast.”

Does she ever, like, relax on weekends?

“This is relaxing,” she said with a smile.

Being outdoors in the natural world restores balance and well-being for their whole family, she said. Her adult son loves splitting wood. Her younger son, Luke, likes playing “Star Wars” on the prairie and helping reseed the native plants, sometimes both at the same time.

Kids, and in particular, kids with ADHD, benefit from being outside, doing physical things, Reeve said, rather than being inside playing with electronic devices all day. “Research shows that lack of (outdoor activity) decreases people’s creativity,” she said. “It’s not rocket science. People who get out and take a walk feel better than people sitting inside all day.”

Spending time in her prairie helped her write her book, she said, and she hopes to write a second. “I want to do a book for high-school students and young adults with autism — helping them live with it,” she said.

Even the drive back to workday reality, on rural roads vs. a crowded rush-hour freeway, is a relaxing transition, she said. “I’m absolutely fresher Monday after being here. It starts the whole week off completely differently.”

Article By Kim Palmer
Minneapolis Star Tribune

Ready To Start Your Own Prairie?

Please Visit Our Website & Let’s Get Started Ion Exchange, Inc.

The Joy of Letting Native Plants Take Over Your Yard.

 by: desmoinesdem Sun May 24, 2009 at 00:48:56 AM CDT Richard Doak wrote a great piece in last Sunday’s Des Moines Register urging readers to “plant the seeds of a more eco-thoughtful Iowa.” Seeding native plants along roadsides has helped the state Department of Transportation save money and labor while user fewer chemicals. Highway officials cite a long list of other benefits, such as controlling blowing snow, improving air quality, reducing erosion, filtering pollutants and providing wildlife habitat. They’re even said to improve safety by reducing the effects of highway hypnosis, delineating upcoming curves and screening headlight glare. Doak wants to see much more native landscaping in Iowa: To set the example, let’s have every school, every courthouse, every park, every hospital, every library set aside at least a patch of space for wild indigo, prairie sage, golden Alexanders, blackeyed Susan, pale-purple coneflower, butterfly milkweed, prairie larkspur, shooting star, compass plant, partridge pea, spiderwort, ironweed, blazing star, smooth blue aster or any of hundreds of other flowering plants that were native to the tallgrass prairie. […] It’s estimated that up to one-third of residential water use goes to lawn watering, and lawn mowing uses 800 million gallons of gasoline per year, including 17 million gallons spilled while refueling. Some 5 percent of air pollution is attributed to lawn mowers. Native plants require no fertilizer or herbicide, no watering and only enough mowing to mimic the effects of the occasional wildfires that kept the prairie clean of trees. Interest in reducing pollution and conserving water and energy should be reason enough to switch to native landscaping. About ten years ago, our family stopped trying to grow a grassy lawn in our shady yard. After the jump I’ve listed some of the benefits of going native. desmoinesdem :: The joy of letting native plants take over your yard We have a beautiful yard. While some people might not appreciate the collective of native Iowa plants (weeds) in our yard, we would never trade it for a monotonous expanse of grass. A decade into our experiment, we have more than 15 types of wildflowers on our property. The landscape changes throughout the spring, summer and fall. Our kids enjoy exploring the yard and get excited whenever a new type of plant starts blooming or getting tall. They love seeing butterflies or other pollinators on the plants too. We save time. As Doak writes, our yard requires almost no maintenance. It needs mowing about three times a year. We save water. We have never watered our lawn since deciding to go native. The plants in our yard tolerated a long dry spell a couple of summers ago very well compared to the grassy lawns in the neighborhood. We save money. We don’t buy grass seed, fertilizer or herbicides, and our water bills are lower than if we were trying to maintain a grassy lawn. We don’t use chemicals. The only time I can remember using herbicides in the last decade was when we had a small patch of poison ivy sprayed near our front sidewalk. We can let our dog and kids run around the yard without worrying about the chemicals they will track in the house afterwards. I’ve never understood why so many Americans spray their lawns and then encourage children to go outside to play there. Kids put their hands in their mouths frequently. Ditching our grassy yard was easy. We are fortunate to live near woods, so we didn’t incur any “start-up costs.” We just stopped trying to grow a grassy lawn and let nature take over from there. Gradually plants from the woods covered almost the whole yard. Most homeowners would have to spend some money for native landscaping, but reduced maintenance in subsequent years should compensate for the initial cost. For Iowans who want native plants on their property, Doak passes along this advice from Loren Lown, natural-resources specialist with the Polk County Conservation Board. -Talk with people who have prairie plantings. They can steer you to sources of seed and expertise. Attend workshops. – Choose plants adapted for your site. There are 1,500 native species of vascular plants in Iowa, but not all will thrive in all locations. You’ll need different species for a sunny hillside than for a soggy low spot. Species for a rain garden would differ from species for a butterfly garden. – Use native plants for accent or a centerpiece, but not for the entire yard. Keep mowing the turf around the prairie plantings to establish a border for them and to make it clear the native patch was deliberately planned, not just lawn gone wild. – Be patient. Most native plants are deep-rooted perennials. They will spend a couple of years establishing roots before they blossom. After that, said Lown, people will have a planting that requires no spraying, no watering and no maintenance except cutting once a year -“and it will live longer than you will.” My advice is to make that native patch as big as possible. Once you get used to the variety of shapes and colors outside your window, you won’t miss your Kentucky bluegrass at all.