Prairie grass and forbs as a ground cover

AquaramaFebruary 3, 2012

I am considering removing a lawn and replanting. The goal is to eliminate mowing 2000 sq ft of grass I cut with my walk-behind battery-powered mower. The staff at Ohio Prairie Nursery thought that a short grass and forbs mix would work for this sandy soil that transitions from a lawn to a woodlot. I have loved those prairie grasses since I visited a park in North Dakota. Who wouldn't love those flowers?

My need is to establish a "ground cover", but I may struggle with the maintenance. I don't have a mower with which I can cut it at 6" or 8" during the establishment phase or later. I am ok with pulling weeds for a year or two. Ultimately, the area would need cleared annually or every few years and I don't have a big mower. Our only trimmer is an AC powered string trimmer. (I doubt if even a gasoline trimmer is even up to the task.)

If I were to get this prairie to succeed, I would design it in several parcels with walking paths between them. I could stealthily burn one of the patches every year--maybe. Our current neighbors are cool, but I don't need any "imperial entanglements".

Can I ultimately just leave it alone once it gets established in about 2015 and only walk through to cut out the woody invaders?

My other question is: am I going to be creating a forward operating base from which rodents will raid our adjacent vegetable garden? We have a 900 sq ft garden behind an electrified fence, but hungry critters do what hungry critters do. I should add that my experience level is eight years of vegetable gardening.

My fall back position is to move some pachysandra from that big patch my neighbor accidentally started in the woodlot. We could add a few attractive shrubs. Give moss a chance. A big patch of Black Eyed Susan is advised, but I don't know if those articles I read meant the vining plant or the regular flower.

I read several pages and searched the forum and did not quite find the information I was looking for. Thanks.

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Let me try to answer some of your questions.

If you want to do a prairie/savanna planting it would be best if you could mow or burn occasionally, but it's not mandatory. Since it is a small plot it's possible that it can be maintained through culling weeds and woody vegetation either by hand pulling, or careful herbicide application spot treatment. I have to say that burning is sweet for keeping things in check when you are growing a prairie.

I'm guessing from the later part of your post (pachysandra and moss) that this area is somewhat shady. If it is shady, I wouldn't attempt a prairie garden (full sun). A savanna garden (mostly sun) might not flourish either if it's too much shade. I think it might be better to create a woodland garden. there are lots of native and non-native plants that would flourish in a semi-shady site. A woodland planting does not require burning or mowing, but will require weeding.

Rodents will find their way to your vegetable garden no matter what surrounds it.

As far as Black-Eyed Susan, I'm quite sure they are referring to the regular flower not the vine, possibly Rudbeckia hirta.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2012 at 11:02AM
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Thanks Theresa! You answered my question quite well in your first sentence. Your other comments were quite insightful.

The lot is in the sun until noon. I had considered transplanting pachysandra from the woodlot about 100 feet beyond our lot.

At this time, I am going to sow buckwheat and hack it down seasonally for "green manure" for the compost pile. I have grown buckwheat in the vegetable garden as a cover crop and a smother crop. I hope it gets a jump on the grass that will want to grow and "smother" it too.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2012 at 5:20PM
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nil13(z21 L.A., CA (Mt. Washington))

Find an old scythe and keep it sharp. You should be able to knock down 2000sqft easily in a weekend with one. Plus it's good exercise.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2012 at 8:55PM
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Yes, Nil13. I lifted this "green manure" idea from Eliot Coleman of the Four Season Farm and author of "Four Season Harvest" and other fine books. I own a golf club sycthe. It worked to hack down clover. Buckwheat has stems that would cut easily. I will be on the look out for "another" scythe.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2012 at 8:53AM
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