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'controlled prairie' as a low maintenance garden?

Posted by Castorp z9 FL (My Page) on
Fri, Apr 15, 05 at 20:28

I want to plant an extremely low-maintenance garden for my parents, and I was wondering if a kind "controlled prairie" or grass garden would be the way to go. Ideally I'd like something they only need to hack down or burn once a year but looks great.

They have a large area of their back yard (200 ft x 20-30 ft) on a very steep slope by a lake. There's a seawall and it's dangerous to mow.

Basically what I would like to do is create a large grass garden or small controlled prairie for them. I would sheet mulch the area (in sections, a bit each year, starting with the steepest and most difficult to mow parts) plant large patches of mostly native and naturalized grasses (muhly, fountain grass, bluestems). I would interplant with perennial and some annual wildflowers for a prairie effect.

I THINK it would be low maintenance because it's almost always seen from a distance and so it would still look good without much weeding--especially if I plant it with wildflowers. What I don't want to end up with is grass with a lot of weeds peeking up through the tops.

It would border a lawn. Would the lawn take over? (I think there's Bermuda in it). Or would the clumping grasses hold their own once they're established? Will lawn weeds eventually take over? Or will a solid stand of grass usually shade them out?

They live in South Georgia (Zone 8). It is full sun, sandy soil, with some irrigation.

Any advice would be appreciated. Thank you.

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: 'controlled prairie' as a low maintenance garden?

i am not real familiar with south georgia and how things grow there, but where i am from your plan is right on the mark. native grasses should out compete most turf grasses. i would suggest you contact a local native plant society for some guidance. do some more research. has a great website and catalog with great information on how to start a prairie. weed control in the first couple years is the biggest hurdle. if you get that under control early then your plan should be successful.

i also reccommend - another great website with tons of stuff to read.

Here is a link that might be useful: grow it dont mow it

RE: 'controlled prairie' as a low maintenance garden?

another good link for people who have lake side property...

not sure how applicable it is for Georgia though...

Here is a link that might be useful: lake buffer information

RE: 'controlled prairie' as a low maintenance garden?

Thanks, Joepyeweed. I've browsed the sites some, and I plan to browse some more. . .One thing I'm doing differently, it seems, is planting the "prairie" as I would a flower bed. I'm putting down layers of newspaper, cardboard, mulch and planting the grass and flowers into the bed. I plan to do most everything from seed, but in flats. I'll do a little bit each year. This way is probably more work, but I'd rather do it this way because I won't be there to go through the mowing routines, and especially because my parents will want it to look at least something like a garden flower bed in the beginning.

Because there's a seawall, they don't really need buffer vegetation--at least until the wall collapses as it has in the past.

I'm desperately looking for someone in the Southeast who's planted grassland. I'd especially like to know how little bluestem does down here (it's in its range). It SHOULD work because most of the southeast used to be a longleaf pine savanna. The main grass in that part of Ga (and down here in FL) was wiregrass, but that's difficult to deal with. Bluestems, muhly, and other grasses grew with the wiregrass though, so I'm thinking it should work. . . Thanks again.

RE: 'controlled prairie' as a low maintenance garden?

Try the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Here is a link that might be useful: Lady Bird

RE: 'controlled prairie' as a low maintenance garden?

  • Posted by dghays Z9B FL Brevard (My Page) on
    Thu, Apr 28, 05 at 14:10

I'm not sure why wiregrass would be difficult to deal with. The wiregrass on my property is only around 1' tall and gets kinda knocked down and stays low. I have about a 1/2 acre I'm creating into meadow. Also using purple and elliotts lovegrass and some wildflowers. Its work up front removing the undesirable weeds, but hopefully upon establishment it will get easier.


RE: 'controlled prairie' as a low maintenance garden?

Gary, I'm very interested in what you're doing. I haven't been able to find many people at all trying native grasslands down here in Central FL. How long have you been working on your meadow?

I say wiregrass is difficult mainly because of what I've read--that it's extremely difficult to propogate from seed, that it spreads very slowly, and that it requires burning to remain vigorous. That said, I don't have much personal experience with wiregrass. For all I know it's easy to work with. My one experiment with it was a failure, but this was due mainly to the growing medium the wiregrass was shipped to me in: I didn't know what I was doing and didn't wash the medium off. As a result, the grass never got well established, declined and died. Where did you find your wiregrass?

Again, I'm very interested in hearing more about your project.

ahughs, thanks for the link. I'll check it out.

RE: 'controlled prairie' as a low maintenance garden?

  • Posted by dghays Z9B FL Brevard (My Page) on
    Thu, Dec 8, 05 at 15:30

Sorry, I didn't keep close watch of this thread. I had wiregrass native on my property, and it spread from where I didn't clear, into some of where I did clear. I think you're right, it would be a much slower process than some other grasses, like purple lovegrass. That grass was apparently on neighboring properties and has spread to my property and is now on much of mine. I'll email you this in case you stopped watching this thread like I did. I have pictures of it also.


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