Saturday, September 8, 2012

Pleasant Run Elementary Prairie Plot W/Slideshow

Last fall, I got the opportunity to create a native prairie for an elementary school located in the suburbs of Cincinnati, Colerain Township to be exact. There's a slideshow of the first season from beginning to end at the bottom of the page. I had never done this before, and was shallowly researched, all I knew was I wanted to use all native species to within 50 miles of Hamilton County, and I wanted bloom periods to climax from April-June (Before the students get let out) and August-October (When the students go back to school). I soon found out that most prairie plants native to this region, do not bloom before the Month of May and that there were a lot of August-October bloomers, but many were incompatible with the site. Being my first seeding, I ignorantly didn't record what species I chose, and how much of each species I chose, but in retrospect I realized I went too heavy on black-eyed susan, and too light on the conservative species and grasses. Regardless of the flawed seeding rates, the first year, despite the drought, went pretty well. A small section of the prairie had to be totally killed because Queen Anne's lace had germinated so thickly that the native plant seedlings were choked out, other than that, the main maintenance the prairie took during the first year was removing Queen Anne's Lace which took a total of 8 hours of work over the whole growing season within this 2,500 sq. ft. plot. Here's a picture of the seeding early last winter, after the clear kill herbicide application done with surfactant free glysophate concetrate mixed at 2 0z per gallon.

By March 23, 2012, the following spring a sterile cool season wheat cover crop called "Regreen" had germinated and was growing very quickly in the warm spring. The wheat grew so vigorously, I do not suggest using this again as a cover crop, as it forced me to have to mow the prairie 3 times before june just to keep it's growth from shading out the native plant seedlings. I also later learned I didn't need a cover crop as the native plant seedlings would cover the ground effectively enough. Many of the seedlings bloomed and set seed their first year including: Canada wild rye, Big bluestem, Switchgrass, Black eyed susan (June-September), Brown eyed susan (August-October), Biennial Gaura (July-August), Purple coneflower (September-October), New england aster (September-October), Smooth blue aster (September-October), Tall boneset (Late August-Early October), Blanket Flower (July-October) and Maximillian Sunflower (June-August). Here's a picture of the aggressive cover crop shooting up through the straw in Late March.

After battling the Regreen cover crop all spring, it went dormant/died by June, I was then greeted by all kinds of native plant seedlings, and first year blooms of Rudbeckia hirta (Black Eyed Susan).

A Compass Plant focuses on growing it's long-lived taproot.

A Rattlesnake Master seedling also remains conservative, and only produces foliage it's first year, no flowering. 

Here's a partial view of the plot from a distance June 30th 2012, the black eyed susans are blooming, along with canada wild rye, and all of the other seedlings are focusing on establishing root systems. 

As the season grew older, so did the seedlings, along with a period of no significant rainfall that lasted from mid June through the very end of August until Hurricane Issac rains saved the Cincinnati area from extreme drought conditions. During this hot and dry period, I only watered the prairie seedlings once, using a oscillating sprinkler hooked up to over 200 ft of hose coming from the school's supply. The watering was done in early July and probably amounted to about 2 inches of water. Other than that lone supplemental watering, the prairie received nothing but inconsistent and shallow rainfalls until the hurricane arrived. None of the adapted native prairie plant seedlings died during the drought, in fact they grew throughout most of it, and many bloomed heavily during the drought. 

Here's a side view of the prairie during the drought, July 31st, 2012. Maximillian sunflowers are blooming with robust black eyed susans.

Here's another picture during the drought, showing the hardiness of the prairie plants during their first year, August 13th, 2012. Canada wild rye and black eyed susan dominate the view of the foreground, and in the top left corner of the picture you can see Maximillian sunflower seedlings blooming at 4' tall.

One last view of the prairie nearing the climax of the drought August 13th, 2012. Brown eyed susan has started blooming, waves of Black eyed susan continue to bloom, Maximillian sunflower seedlings tower at 4' tall attracting goldfinches as their seed matures, and at the bottom right of the picture you can start to see the part of the prairie I killed because of the blanket of Queen Anne's lace that had germinated. Other native plant seedlings are getting bigger and many are preparing to bloom primarily in September.

By late August, we were in the climax of the drought, right before Hurricane Issac would drop almost 4 inches of rain upon our needy midwestern landscape. Now I want to show you some close ups of the wildflowers blooming at the end of August through today, September 8th. 

Brown Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia triloba) in the climax of the drought.

Maximillian Sunflower (Helianthus maximilliani), August 25th, 2012, during the climax of the drought. 

Tall Coreopsis (Coreopsis tripteris), Blanketflower (Gallaridia puchella), and Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) not minding the dry spell.

Biennial guara (Oenthera biennis) is blooming it's first year, most seedlings remained as rosettes their first year though, this was thee lone bloomer of the seedlings. August 25th, 2012, climax of drought.

Tall Boneset (Eupatorium alltissimum) Center-Left creating flower buds, Tall Coreopsis blooming Centered, and New England Aster branching for flower buds, Bottom-Right.

I still haven't figured out what a couple of seedlings are, such as this rosette keeping tight to the ground:

Entering September once we've gotten our 4 inches of rain within 3 days, the Tall Boneset started to bloom with the New England Asters just beginning, Blanket Flower grew stronger and bigger, sporadic Black Eyed Susan kept blooming, Smooth Blue Asters (Aster Laevis) produced a few blooms their first year, self-seeded Tall Ironweed (Vernonia altissima) pushed small blooms, Big bluestems (Andropogon gerardii) grew erect as if they're going to bloom, and a single Switchgrass (Panicum varigatum) bloomed and set seed. The plot is loud with insect mating songs, finches flying through eating Maximillian Sunflower and Brown Eyed Susan seeds. Here's some last and latest pictures.

Purple coneflowers, that had remained conservative for most of the year, primarily growing roots through the drought, are now surprisingly pushing bloom heads within the 1st week of September. New England Asters gradually approached full bloom, and did by the second week. Brown Eyed Susans look as though they will bloom into October along with Blanket Flower and Black eyed Susans of different maturity levels. Migrating butterflies are crowding the air space of the prairie, along with bumble bees, wasps, dragonflies, beetles, and all different kinds of flies. The sound is overwhelming, it's as if you can hear every insect in the plot at once. The 5th grade students have used it already in it's first year to learn life science topics, primarily food chains. I've sprayed another 4,250 square feet to expand the current plot which is 2500 sq. ft. I'll give you sneak peak at what I'll be reporting on next year....Here's the Plant list in Microsoft Excel Format, ignore the sources, most will be from Prairie Moon, some will be locally collected, and some will be from Everwilde. 

Here's a slideshow from installation to flowering for the first year:

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