Maintaining Your New Native Planting

Noxious weeds like thistle will try to invade your new planting. Be prepared!
Noxious weeds like thistle will try to invade your new planting. Be prepared!

You did it. You cleared a patch in your yard and sprinkled seeds or tucked small baby plants gently into the soil. Now, you’re sitting back and basking in your accomplishment. You have created a pollinator oasis and your new native planting is part of a patchwork quilt of prairies and gardens that are helping to restore habitat for birds, bees and butterflies while also protecting our land and water resources. Good for you!

But… hullo! What’s that poking up there in the middle of your new garden? Is that a dandelion? What about that? Is that thing a weed or a wildflower? Sorry to say, but your work’s not done yet.

Prairies have a lot of virtues, but instant gratification is not one of them. During their early years, the plants put most of their energy into roots and the show above ground is rather unimpressive. Meanwhile, the weeds can be merciless.

Here are a few tips for maintenance:

  1. Plan ahead for easier maintenance. If you are planting a smaller garden, using plugs or pots instead of seeds will allow the plants to establish more quickly and will make it easier for you to keep track of what is a weed and what is not. Planting in groups versus scattering the plants throughout your garden also makes it easier to keep track of them in early years. Cover the ground with 3” deep of shredded hardwood mulch to help block weeds and prevent the soil from drying out.
  2. Don’t forget to water. Yes, native plants are drought resistant, but you’ll still need to water them in the beginning. Aim for twice a week during the first month and once a week for the remainder of the first growing season (less if it rains).
  3. Yes, you will have to pull weeds. Plan to weed a few times a year during the first three years. After that, the plants usually form a dense enough mat to keep out most of the weeds.
  4. Mow or burn to control weeds in larger prairies. If you start a prairie from seed, mow it during the first one to three years to control weeds, which grow more quickly than prairie plants. Set the mower high (4″ to 8″) and mow in the spring. After that, burn portions of the prairie on rotation every few years (hire a professional or do it on your own if you know how). If that isn’t possible, continue to mow once a year in the spring.
It takes a couple of years for a native planting to establish, but the end result is worth the work.

Stick with it and your native planting will become a beautiful and low-maintenance landscape amenity that will charm you for years to come.

Learn more about landscaping with native plants at www.BlueThumb.org. The Minnesota DNR also has a guidebook with information about prairie restoration.

If you live in Washington County, contact Washington Conservation District to schedule a free site visit and learn about available grants in your area: 651-330-8220 or www.mnwcd.org. Elsewhere in Minnesota, visit www.BlueThumb.org to learn about grants and other resources near you.