Spill the beans: What are all the new beds about?

Plugs are expensive. Like, really expensive. Planting densely is important in native landscape design, but that means adding a lot of plants to your order, especially ground covers. Growing your own plugs from seed is a great idea, but ground cover plants can be slow to germinate. So, is there a better method to consider? That’s what we are testing here at Prairie Oaks with our new Ground Cover Garden.

Our new garden will consist of six bean-shaped beds with varying light conditions from partial sun to full shade. In them, we will be growing nine different species of ground covers: May Apple, Wild Ginger, Violet Wood Sorrel, Common Blue Violet, Pussytoes, Palm Sedge, Christmas Fern, Maiden Hair Fern, and Lady Fern.

What is a ground cover?

Ground covers, as the name implies, cover ground. Okay, maybe there is a bit more to it than that. Ground covers are plant species which are adept at filling in spaces and gaps in landscapes. They are generally good at spreading out on their own, and to do this, they often utilize rhizomes.

Rhizomes let a plant spread out without having to seed. The rhizomes creep horizontally underground, and from them, new clones of the original plant can sprout. The key for our garden plan is that although they are clones of the original plant, the new plants can be divided from it.

Diagram from Research Gate

Our plan

We will be starting our garden from seed (except for the ferns) this fall. A lot of the plants we picked require a period of overwintering, so getting them in the dirt now makes sense. We will plant rather densely so that come summer, we will have lots of young plants to choose from. Then, whenever we need to fill a space in the landscape, we can just pull from this plant stock. However, we will make sure to only take every other plant so that we still have a foundation to regenerate the plant population from. Over the course of the year, whatever is left in the beds will shoot out rhizomes and fill back up with new growth. In time, I also expect them to self-seed for added density. Following this strategy will give us a constant supply of plants to pull from throughout the year without needing to replant.

Want to see how it all turns out? Make sure to follow our Instagram @prairie.oaks for regular updates!

The Practical Value of Pavers

Pavers are an undeniably beautiful and popular aspect of landscape design.  Unfortunately, they are also quite time-consuming to install and can get pricey. In your native landscape with lots of tall, dense plantings, they may seem like an unnecessary expense since your plants create their own border. However, if you have the time and money, I would highly recommend getting some pavers, even (and especially!) if your landscape has a high density. This is because pavers have practical value along with their aesthetic appeal, and using pavers could increase the overall ecological quality of your landscape.

The main practical benefit of pavers is that they create a hard border between your path/lawn and your plant bed. Having a hard, consistent border is essential to maintaining the quality of everything inside and outside the bed. To understand why, let’s consider what happens when you mow or weed-whack the edge of your bed.

As you mow many times over the course of the year, the movements of your mower are rarely the exact same every time. This is no problem in the middle of your lawn, but at the edges of your plantings, every variation means either cutting back productive plants or not cutting enough of the lawn. Both of these situations result in the creation of a disturbed area, which invasive weeds like Queen Anne’s Lace or Reed Canary Grass happily exploit. When these weeds get a foothold, they can completely take over and ruin an area.

Take a look at this planting. Where is the edge? Where did it used to be? Would you want to try to weed this?

In contrast, pavers communicate exactly where one space ends and another begins, so you don’t have any inconsistencies when you mow the edge. They also provide a physical barrier to prevent lawn grass and shallow-rooted weeds from establishing outside of a bed and then creeping in. In this way, the health of your bed is improved and you don’t have to worry as much about creating disturbances.

Overall, pavers can be an ecologically productive addition to your landscape as well as an aesthetic one. Even if you haven’t installed them before, it is a fun experience to try, and nothing is as rewarding as creating that perfect curve. A clean edge isn’t just nice for your eyes— it’s nice for your plants too!

Oak Damage: Upcoming Webinar

We must help this keystone species ASAP
Join us August 5 at 8am

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Over the last twenty years, we have seen perennial damage to the leaves of oak trees.  Join us on Zoom, August 5 at 8am, as Dr. Jesse Randall of Michigan State University shares his findings regarding the effects that pre-emergent herbicides have on native tree health. We will also hear an explanation about the oak tree’s role in our ecosystems from Douglas Tallamy, the author of several books including the current bestseller The Nature of Oaks: The Rich Ecology of Our Most Essential Native Tree

Join Zoom Meeting
Meeting ID: 875 1425 6235


Dr. Jesse Randall is Michigan State’s Forestry Innovation Center Director.  Previously employed with Iowa State, Jesse has spent the last decade researching the effects of various unnatural chemicals on the native and essential trees of our ecosystems.
Douglas Tallamy is a professor of entomology wildlife ecology at University of Delaware.  He has written three books about environmentalism, two of which are New York Times Best Sellers.

Join Zoom Meeting
Meeting ID: 875 1425 6235

Taking a Breather!

Hi all! As of today, 7/20/2021, Prairie Oaks will be going offline for some much needed rest & recovery! We have been working very hard and have been fortunate to work with some incredible, insightful, curious, and hard-working folks from our community and beyond. Stay tuned for when we open our doors back up. We look forward to reconnecting in the future with new projects, people, and opportunities!

Happy Little Cotyledons

Spring is definitely here, and we are working almost as hard as the bees.

Sidra already has many veggies and greens transplanted into the garden, including kale, collards, chard, cabbage, and broccoli. She is also raising some very eager tomatoes and peppers, as shown by the little green cotyledons they have put on display in the hoop house. Her experience working on production farms in Illinois guides her with confidence through the garden, giving us much needed insight for starting plants early.

IMG_9522Last week, Sidra, Moselle, Joyce, and David (our extremely helpful neighbor) planted bare root Contender peaches, Yellow & Gold Delicious apples, Stella & Montmercy cherries, and Stanley plums alongside the Lincoln pears in the orchard. We are considering planting pawpaws there as well. YUM!

Joyce & Tony have been teaching Sidra how to remove invasive species from the woodland and prairie, namely Multiflora Rose, Garlic Mustard, and Russian Olive. It is no easy task!

Moselle has been preparing the guesthouse to accommodate volunteers on-site. We have listed ourselves as hosts on HelpX and WWOOF websites. More hands on deck not only speeds processes along, it also gives us the opportunity to create community and to learn from each other.

springAlong with the buds, blooms, and first leaves, many critters are starting to emerge from their winter dens as well. Toads, rabbits, geese, deer, and one giant snapping turtle have already made their debuts.

In the woodland, we have been graced by the billowing tiny Dutchman’s Breeches, the whimsical Bluebells, and the unassuming Bloodroot. All bringing their own colorful palettes and scents. As Sidra said, it’s almost as if this place turned into a Japanese garden overnight!

Check back for updates as we keep planting, growing, and learning. Happy Spring!


febsunrise“You say Iowa is severe and blight-bare, a dead cornfield in winter.

I say it is the red-tailed hawk, gliding in widening circles above frozen ground.
It is the bald eagle on the branches of a slumbering bur oak.
It is Orion’s Belt and Ursa Major, brilliant in the cold night sky, jewels among countless stars like sea foam on a dark ocean.
It is the icy hoofprint of deer in the pine wood, and it is the blue and red jays and cardinals, cheerful flashes of color in the somber late-winter palette.
It is the belly track of unseen mammals, dragging along their brown-grass paths between pond and cozy den.

It is a modest beauty, a world masked in subtlety.”

-Sidra Schkerke

Sidra began working at Prairie Oaks earlier this month. She has been working at farms across the Midwest for a few years and has brought a multitude of skills, insight, and knowledge along with her.