On my suburban prairie, one gardening season officially ends and the next one officially begins on the day I clear off the last season’s dry, brown stalks to make way for the next season’s fresh growth of grasses and wildflowers. This usually occurs mid-February, weather permitting.
Most prairie plants die to the ground once their season of growth is over or from the winter cold. Cutting back and removing the old, dead growth gives perennial plants room to sprout from the roots or from a rosette of leaves that forms over the cool season. Removing the old growth also allows sunlight to reach the seedlings that sprouted in the fall and helps in the germination of new seeds in the spring.
Historically, fire rejuvenated the great American prairies by removing dead plant material and suppressing tree and brush growth. Fires started from natural sources, such as lightning strikes, but the Native Americans also learned the benefits of fire on the prairie and intentionally set them. Prairies greened up quickly after a fire and attracted grazing animals, such as the American bison, which were hunted by the Native Americans.
Controlled burns are used today to clear managed prairies. Fire, in a residential neighborhood, is probably not a good option for my prairie. Of course, there is always the possibility that a discarded cigarette butt or a vandal that does not appreciate the natural look of prairie plants will start a fire to help with the maintenance of my prairie. Until then, I must clear my prairie the hard way, on my knees with hand shears and electric hedge shears.
Here is a look back at the last gardening season and a look forward to the start of the next one. It is always fun to see how plants have grown, changed, and relocated over time. Even more fun is looking forward to the next season.