Tag Archives: Plants

Native Restoration History

Spring Native Plant Landscape

This restoration was from seed and this is its seventh growing season. The random, unkempt look is intentional. Except for removing invasives, I don’t try to control where the plants grow. I’m happy to let them do the thing they’ve been doing for millenia and just enjoy them and the fauna they attract.

This area is about 6/10 acre in front of my house. It started as a typical rural lawn with tall fescue, Bermuda grass, Kentucky bluegrass, and other non-native cool-season “lawn” grasses. It also had a lot of winter annuals like chickweed, henbit, dead nettle, etc. It was mowed by the previous owner but not doted over and cared for like a lawn in the suburbs.

Against the recommendations I read, I first sprayed this with off-the-shelf glyphosate (Round-Up) late in the summer (early September). There are other methods to kill existing vegetation, but you cannot skip this step and I will say my inattention to this detail has caused the most problems going forward. I got a pretty good kill despite the dormancy of some of the cool-season stuff. Later that fall, we burned off the duff and dead plant material and I spot-sprayed what greened up after it cooled down. That winter, I sowed mainly seeds from Hamilton Native Outpost in one of their prairie seed and companion grass mixes suited for my site (I have the paperwork at home somewhere if you want the details on it, but you should choose based on your site not on what worked here). I mixed in some seeds from local sources, but this is mostly from the seed mix. I recommend that you check Grow Native! (http://grownative.org/) to find a seed or potted plant vendor that serves plants obtained from your area. I’ve overseeded this plot each year with a variety seeds collected locally. Some plants will only readily establish themselves in already established habitats. Just like forests, prairies go through successional stages with some species dominating early in the process, only to have those give way to other species.

I thought it was a disaster the first year. It was overgrown with weeds (ragweed, mare’s tail, a lot of the cool season stuff I failed the kill the first time, the winter annuals). This is where you need to know your plants. The annual weeds can just be knocked down both for aesthetics and to give your baby natives the sunlight they need to thrive. The cool season stuff required a lot of follow-up spot spraying. Don’t be discouraged. This planting is in its 7th year. I’d say the first 2-3 years seemed pretty sketchy unless you could spend the time out there and see that your natives might not be flowering but they were growing. Don’t give up! You cannot really see how a site is going to look for your natives for at least 3 years.

Throughout the years, I’ve had to cut and treat stems of multiflora rose (which is well established on my neighbors’ properties and in the the fencerows along the road), walnut trees, hackberries, and elms. Burning alone will not kill them.

Controlled burns are done in the off-season. My long-term goal is to burn this only once every other year so a good native fauna can become established in the area that might otherwise be set back severely with an annual burn. I’m working on another similar-sized project (see http://pearlcreek.net/new-native-planting/ for a summary; the 1/3 acre there is meant to supplement another ~1/3 or so that is already fairly well established) so I can alternate burning each every other year. Except for two winters ago, this patch has been burned or attempted each year.

This property (http://pearlcreek.net) is 10 acres with about 1/2 of it wooded with mostly native vegetation. The other half was open pasture and lawn, but at least part of it was probably historically bonafide prairie. Although I prepped and seeded the “open” areas next to the forested areas, these areas also get native vegetation from the woodland areas. The seeds I put in place just are left to compete with the seed bank that is already there. If it’s native, I let them fight it out, which has the pleasing effect of blurring the lines between open area and woodland.

If your area is visible to the neighbors, put up a sign explaining your restoration. They’ll know what you’re doing and might become curious as to why you’re doing it. Naturally, if you’re in an urban or suburban area, your challenges with the unkempt look will be greater. Make friends and explain what you’re doing before someone goes on a crusade against you!

Here are some things I would do differently.

1) Pay attention to what you have. If you have a patch of ground that has some natives in it, kill the invasives, do a controlled burn, and see what shows up after a year or two. I had a wet sedge meadow area that I overseeded with native seeds from Hamilton before really paying attention to what was there. Now, I don’t know what was naturally part of that meadow and what I put in. It was a pretty neat feature to begin with and I wish I’d left it alone.

2) Don’t skimp on killing the existing vegetation. I did on this site and I got really lucky. I have a real pasture in another area where I skimped and it is overrun with smooth brome, a lot of fescue, and now sweet clover. The natives get better up there each year but I have a significant effort in place to try to knock back the invasives each year.

3) Plan your restoration so you can leave at least 1/2 of it unburned each year. This helps native fauna that depend on the cover and structure of the planting to survive and thrive over the winter months. Even birds and small mammals can adjust somewhat to burning and a rather traumatic and sudden loss of cover, but smaller animals, particularly insects, depend on dormant plant material for overwintering and a burn naturally kills them outright. If you have nearby sources to provide these fauna with refugia, I think you’ll be more successful in the long run even if you won’t notice it right away.

4) Diversify your seed sources. I did this a little by hand collecting seeds. Early on, I noticed that I got almost zero germination for my native grass seed. A couple of years later, purely by accident, I discovered that a handful of side oats seeds I put out really took off and continue to do well (although some of the other grasses have also started filling in now, too). Because of the almost infinite number of site characteristics (light, soil, moisture, usage, history, existing vegetation, etc.), one species might do better than another. Give yourself every chance at success by diversifying. And don’t be afraid to try something as you go. This is a long-term investment and it will look different every year.

5) Start now! Even if you have only a small space to convert or you can only afford seed material for a small space, give it a try. You can expand it each year (and it will expand on its own).

6) Contact the Missouri Department of Conservation, specifically the Private Land Conservationist for your county, to tap into cost-sharing grants for restoring landscapes. They can help you with a vision and strategy, too. Check out Grow Native! as well as the Missouri Prairie Foundation and their companion Facebook sites for information, events near you, plant sales, techniques for invasive control and native propagation, and opportunities to network with others who have done this or want to do it.

7) You’re a landscape artist now! Visit other native restorations and native prairies and other habitats to see what you should be striving for. Go forth, restore habitat, and enjoy it all!

Indian Paintbrush

Indian Paintbrush
Indian Paintbrush

This Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja coccinea) has been blooming for more than a week. I thought it was a little early for it. Sure enough, there are probably a dozen more that we found today that are in varying stages of blooming. It’s going to be be our best year yet for them in the restored prairie!

Buzzard’s Roost, Pike County, Missouri

This post is not about Pearl Creek Farm, but about another great place in Missouri: Buzzard’s Roost in Pike County. This area, scarcely a half¬†mile from the¬†place where I was born and raised, is unique in its own right, but is also fairly unusual for areas outside of the Ozarks. Included are two significant cave openings, at least two permanent springs, several minor cave openings, and a sheer, north-facing bluff that harbors at least two rare plant species, considered glacial relicts, for Missouri. The area also harbors some interesting habitats for northern Missouri and has some history and lore associated with it.

Much of this area is for sale in a 70-acre tract from a landowner who logged part of it and kept it as a hunting playground. The karst and sensitive habitats are protected by a lengthy hike from the main road. I’d like to see this property in the hands of a government agency, land foundation, or a conservation-minded buyer that understands its value beyond the abundant game species present.

Read on to see more photographs of the area, some characteristic flora and fauna (including two rare plant species), or head straight to the real estate information!

Buzzard's Roost Cave opening
Buzzard’s Roost Cave opening

Continue reading Buzzard’s Roost, Pike County, Missouri

New Native Planting

After nearly three years of planning and preparation, I sowed about 1/3 of an acre today with native seeds. Preparation included multiple passes with herbicide, including spot sprayings over more than two years. This year, I spent a great deal of time collecting native seeds from the surrounding counties. Today, right after our snow accumulation, Julian and I sowed them into two new areas (see map). This leaves a small “domestic” area between the workshop and the shed where we’ll have a garden, a fire pit, and continue to keep mowed and semi-manicured.

Julian and buckets full of native seeds
Julian poses in front of three buckets of native seeds and duff collected this year.

Satellite photo with native planting marked
The areas in yellow were sowed with native seeds today. The area in red is now the only “domestic” (read: mowed) area at Pearl Creek Farm (besides trails).


Finally, a plant species list for Pearl Creek Farm!

After digging through notes, field notebooks, field guides, and the furthest recesses of our memories, we’ve compiled a vascular plant species list for Pearl Creek Farm. So far, we have 221 species listed, which is not bad for 10 acres. I’ve marked several with codes indicating their native status and whether or not we “imported” them as part of one of our restorations. As you can see, we have some identification work to do on some of the plants here.

With the help of John Atwood at the Missouri Botanical Garden, I’ve also compiled a list of 16 bryophytes for the farm.

Frost Flowers

It’s a good year for frost flowers. These “flowers” form during the first really cold nights of the fall. Basically, water is forced up through the stems of certain species of plants and is forced outward, forming intricate patterns. Most of these frost flowers formed on the stems of Verbesina virginica, White Crownbeard.

This is by far the most frost flowers I’ve ever seen in the wild. This is the third time I’ve seen them at Pearl Creek Farm. The other times I saw one or two only. There are more than two dozen out there now!


Continue reading Frost Flowers

June Plants

I hope June finds you knee-deep in native plants! Our prairie has gone from spring beauties and violets all the way through coneflowers, horsemint, and at least two types of milkweed. I can see ashy sunflower, blazing star, and various species of Silphium ready to round out the summer. Tufts of native grass are thicker than ever. The pond has yellow spatterdock, white waterlily, arrowhead (Sagittaria), and lizard’s tail all blooming right now. There will no doubt be more as the season progresses.

Rough-cut walnut boards

Walnut trees are common on our farm, even invasive one might say. A particularly large one was unlucky enough to be caught dropping walnuts in our frog pond. It had to go because walnuts are poisonous to aquatic animals. So, we cut it down. It just so happens I have a friend with a sawmill and the facilities to process the wood.

Half of a large, sawed walnut log
Half of a large, sawed walnut log

In the course of a day, we lifted an entire walnut log, twice: once to load the cut boards on the trailer (above) and the pickup, and again to put them on a rack to dry (below).

Four large rough-cut walnut logs, stickered on a drying rack
Four large rough-cut walnut logs, stickered on a drying rack