More on native plants for meadows

I had a grand time at the Nepean Horticultural Society on Thursday, talking about wildflower meadows. One of the best parts of the evening was the questions after my talk. Some great, thoughtful, questions came from the audience – thanks to all who asked.

(I am a bit slow getting to this. The cold I was fending off all week, so that I could give the talk Thursday evening, exacted vengeance on Friday and through the weekend.)

One of the most remarked upon parts of my talk was the illustration of the depths of roots of various prairie plants and wildflowers. I thought I would put up this illustration, from Conservation Research Institute, 1995, to give everyone another look at this phenomenon.


The botany prof who first drew all these wonderful root systems, whose name I couldn’t recall, was a Dr Weaver, of the University of Nebraska, and he is the subject of a fine blog post in the blog Gardenhistorygirl. I urge you to click through to see some astonishing botanical illustration work.

Prairie plants root systems sequester carbon in the soil as they build organic matter in topsoil. I mentioned this briefly in my talk. The Guardian newspaper recently published an article on how farming practices affect the amount of carbon in the soil: Our best shot at cooling the planet might be right under our feet. Imagine the difference in carbon sequestration between a field growing little bluestem as a perennial hay, and, say, industrial corn. You may not be in a position to seed an hundred acres in little bluestem, but you may want to be part of the solution by doing your little bit, creating a small meadow of native grasses and flowers where you can, in your yard or at your church or school.

Also, while you are here, take a look at the roots of Cylindric Blazing Star, second from the right. Wow! Cylindric Blazing Star is a little thing, no bigger than a petunia plant, and its roots go down 15 feet.



Little Bluestem in Autumn

Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) is at its best in autumn when the slanting autumn light burnishes its warm coppery colour and catches the small but fluffy white awns on the seeds. This clump of little bluestem is growing in a perennial bed with clumps of evergreen foliage of alumroot (Heuchera spp.) and prairie smoke (Geum triflorum) and the deep scarlet basal leaves of foxglove beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis).

Pond Restoration – Plants get in the ground

Our pond restoration plans got delayed. We did not get any plants in the ground in 2013. The black plastic stayed more or less in place over the winter. The worst of it was I lost several flats of plants, including the all-important grasses, to the harsh winter. Only those flats that happened to become buried under a big snow drift survived.

When I finally pulled back the black plastic the earth was dry as dust and the weeds seemed thoroughly killed. An organic duff of tough bits of stem and small woody bits seemed a good medium to plant into. I waited for a drizzly day and the little bluestem plants and their associated flowers finally got into the ground.ImageSo

Some of the wild flowers to go in between the little bluestem: silky aster, wild bergamot, prairie baby’s breath (flowering spurge) showy tick trefoil, hoary vervain, purple anise-hyssop, wild senna and dwarf leadplant.

I ran out of little bluestem plants, because of the overwintering losses, so I won’t be able to continue planting until this year’s little bluestem seedlings are big enough to plant. I need to include the native grasses because we will need to burn this pond edge meadow fairly regularly to keep the non-natives from taking over. Grasses provide the fuel for the burns. I want to make most of the grass in this planting little bluestem so that we can still see the pond. Big bluestem, or even switch grass would get too tall. I have planted some Indian grass and will plant more. And I will include a few clumps of Canada wild rye, just to have this species around.

A week after the black plastic was pulled back, after a year of solarization, the rhizomes of bracken fern were sending up croziers. Tough plant. I am not going to declare war on bracken (pointless) but I am hoping that the grasses, once well-established, will be able to outcompete it.