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Re: Getting rid of a lawn, creating a prairie

  • Subject: Re: [cg] Getting rid of a lawn, creating a prairie
  • From: "Sharon Gordon" <gordonse@one.net>
  • Date: Wed, 5 May 2004 13:27:31 -0400

One way to remove the lawn is to use a machine which cuts a strip of sod and
you can roll it up and remove it.  These strips can be composted or given to
people who need to patch some lawn.  If your local rental place doesn't have
a machine, check with funeral homes about who they use for grave site
preparations as this sort of machine often gets used to cut the sod so it
can be placed back over the grave site.

This will leave a lot of the taproot of dandelions though, so they will come
back.  You can dig them out by hand if you like, but personally I'd leave
them in as they are:
Tasty and nutritious
Have many medicinal uses
Good fertilizer plants as they pull up nutrients from deep in the soil

We just missed the National Dandelion Cook Off, but see Peter Gail's sites
for various recipe books
For starters see Dandelion Ravioli in Tomato Cream Sauce and some other
winners on the site.

One warning about prairie gardens before I forget.  The municipal
governments in some areas are unable to tell a prairie garden from a weedy
vacant lot and have been known to mow or plow under 20 years worth of work.
So see what the rules are in your area.  One way some people have countered
this is by having a strip of mown lawn at the edge of their yard, so that
it's clear that they mowed their lawn and the other stuff is a flower bed.
(But this doesn't always work either.)

A couple of seed companies have put out a prairie lawn mixture which doesn't
need mowing and all the plants stay below 6 inches.  At the moment I can't
remember which ones.  Can anyone help me out here?

One of the other challenges is to get the desirable prairie plants growing
before the weed seed present in your lawm take off again.  One of the most
effective ways is to have the flats of plants ready to go in as soon as the
soil is prepared.  That way they will tend to shade out the weeds.
Alternatively you can seed with a prairie mixture and weed out any unwanted
strays.  If you do this I recommend planting a sample of seeds in some
sterilized planting soil so that you have a reference for what the baby
plants look like.

Sometimes people like to start prairies with seedballs.

As for what to choose to plant, you might ask local prairie experts what
used to be on the area prairies.  Wildflower books for your state and
adjacent states would help too as they usually give info about where to find
the plants.  And this will help to sort out which grow in prairie like
environments vs. deep shade vs. in boggy areas.

If you'd like to stack your prairie toward multiply useful plants, you might
cross reference them with an eye for
Edible plants
Bird and butterfly attractors
Herbal use (medicinal, toiletries)
Dye plants
Historical use by Native Americans

Two helpful online databases for showing the uses of various plants or
finding the plants for  certain uses are the
Native American Ethnobotanical database
(You knew I was going to say this, right?...There are 82 instances of uses
for dandelions for instance. And perhaps for more what you had in mind:
Echinacea 119
Rudbeckia (black eyed susan) 35
Allium (onion family) 303)
Plants for a Future

For books for starters:
State plant and wildflower guides
James Duke herb books (any that interest you)
The Herb Society of America New Encyclopedia of Herbs & Their Uses

Other resources:
It seems to me there are  several professors (notes are in storage, sorry
not to be more exact) at the University of Northern Iowa who specialize in
creating new prairies.  Looking through the faculty names, I think one is
Laura Jackson
Laura.L.Jackson@uni.edu , and she could direct you to others.
In Ohio, north of Dayton, Aullwood Sanctuary and Nature Center has a
demonstration prairie garden.
Likely people at the Moron Arboretum could help with local info.

And once this gets going, would you post pictures somewhere for us to see?


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