Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Are Prairie Gardens Really Low Maintenance?

Whoever said prairie gardening was low maintenance must be crazy. (Don't scroll up and read the header for this blog!) Sure, prairie gardens do not require weekly maintenance like lawns need mowing, but they do require some maintenance to keep them in control - particularly in a suburban setting where cut turf grass is the standard.

Most of the time, the maintenance on my prairie is minimal. I walk around the prairie on a regular basis and remove any weeds as soon as I notice them. I do not fertilize the prairie other than a foliar feeding of liquid organic fertilizer once or twice a year, if that. Watering is kept to a minimum. Other than water that fell from the sky and hand watering of new transplants, I have not watered my prairie this year. My goal is to keep the plants on the green side of dormancy through the summer. 

The photo above shows how my front yard prairie looked Saturday morning. The flowers that covered the prairie in the spring are faded and seed heads are ripening. Many of the plants have grown rather large - much larger than the same plants grow in natural areas. In short, the prairie looks a little weedy. No maintenance is actually needed, but since the front yard prairie is out there for the world to see, I feel an obligation to keep it looking as neat and maintained as possible, without taking away the natural look.

Selectively tidying up a prairie requires considerable bending, stooping, and squatting for this six and a half foot tall prairie gardener. (Where are the buffalo when you need them?) I use sheep shears to cut the thin flower stems of the four nerve daisies, Tetraneuris scaposa, to keep them neat and blooming throughout the summer. 

Hand pruners are useful for cutting back mealycup sage, Salvia farinacea, from a height of around three feet to just a few inches tall. This hard pruning will encourage regrowth and additional blooms, particularly in late summer. The black sampson coneflower, Echinacea angustifolia, blooms in the spring and then begins to die back to a few leaves. I trim off most of the flower heads and toss them around the prairie to start additional plants. I leave a few flower heads on the plants for the birds, although I have never seen any birds feeding on them.

Most of my prairie plants are more than happy to spread by seed. Most of them are easy to pull out by hand when their numbers need to be thinned. Others, like cutleaf daisy, Engelmannia peristenia, and bush sunflower, Simsia calva, have stout tap roots and must be dug out. I am working to remove both of these from the front yard prairie.

So, after a few hours of trimming, pulling, and digging in the blazing sunshine, the prairie looks a little more maintained than it did a little earlier. I did not cut back everything though. The Gaillardia in the foreground is an annual. I need to allow the seed heads to mature in order to produce seeds for next year.

The big red sage, Salvia penstemonoides, just started blooming. Eryngo, Eryngium leavenworthii, and gayfeather, Liatris mucronata, will not start blooming for another month or two. The little bluestem, Schizachyrium scoparium, is starting to get some height and will become the dominant plant on the prairie in the coming months.

Prairie gardening is not maintenance free and maybe it is really not low maintenance either. My prairie gets about three days of intense maintenance each year. The first time is in late winter to clear everything to the ground for a new season. The second day is in early summer, as described above, to remove some spring growth, and the third time is in late fall after the first frost to trim back most of the flowering perennials. Most of the rest of the year I can enjoy the prairie. At least I think I will once I stop coming up with new ideas for changes to the prairie. Right now I am thinking of ways to make the prairie even lower maintenance. Any suggestions?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Where are all the Hummingbirds?

I usually see the first hummingbirds flying around my prairie by mid April. Actually, before I see the hummingbirds, I usually hear the rapid chirping sound one hummingbird makes as it chases another hummingbird away from the feeding area it has staked out for itself. But not this year. April went by without spotting or hearing any hummingbirds and then May. Nothing.

What could be wrong? My red yucca, Gregg salvia, and rock penstemon plants – all hummingbird favorites – are covered in blooms. Could the drought across Texas have forced the birds to take a different migratory path? I don’t know. I found this website that tracks the spring migration of the ruby-throated hummingbird and it looks similar to prior years. In fact, hummers were spotted in this area on March 17. Somehow I have missed them.

Earlier this week, I took this picture of Pale-leaf Yucca, Yucca pallida, surrounded by Rock Penstemon, Penstemon baccharifolius, and four nerve daisy, Tetraneuris scaposa. 

A few minutes later, I went inside and looked out the window. There, among those very Rock Penstemon flowers, was a ruby-throated hummingbird hovering around and sipping nectar. Finally.

I have not seen a hummingbird again this week, but I know that at least one of them found my prairie this year.

Click here to see a photo I took last year of a hummingbird feeding on Big Red Sage.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Queen Butterfly

Queen Butterfly, Danaus gilippus, and Gregg's Mistflower, Conoclinium greggii .

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Free Water-Wise Garden Tour 06-04-11

The following is a public service announcement from the Plano Prairie Garden.

City of Dallas Water Utilities, City of Dallas Stormwater Management, City of Dallas Park & Recreation, Texas AgriLife Extension, Dallas County Master Gardeners and the Town of Addison are teaming up with surrounding cities to demonstrate the beauty of Water-Wise and EarthKind™ gardening with the 17th annual Water-Wise Landscape Tour.

Dallas County Master Gardeners will be conducting free 30 minute talks on Water-Wise gardening every hour on the hour at each of the tour headquarters. Dallas County Master Gardener volunteers will also be assisting homeowners and helping answer questions about the plants and landscapes on the tour. The first 100 visitors at each of the three tour headquarters will receive a free hose nozzle.

For more information, visit or call the Water Conservation Hotline at
(214) 670-3155 Monday-Friday 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.

Maps for the self-driving tour are available at and at all tour

Tour Headquarters
Central: White Rock Pump Station - 2900 White Rock Rd. , Dallas , TX 75214
North: Les Lacs Linear Park - 3901 Beltway Dr. , Addison , TX 75001
South: Lake Cliff Park - E. Colorado Blvd. at N. Zang Blvd. , Dallas , TX 75203

6001 Revere Place
If you go, here are some of my favorites that I visited on past tours that will not disappoint.

#6 - 7124 Pasadena Ave. Click here for the owner's website and photos.

#7 - 9347 Angora St. This is the Blue Lotus Gardens from the Garden Conservancy Tour. Click here for my photos.

#14 - 6001 Revere Place. Pictured above in 2009.

Be sure to check the Save Dallas Water website to view pictures, videos and plant lists of the gardens so you can decide which ones will be most interesting to you. Scroll down on the photo pages for additional photos.

There are gardens at 3 tour headquarters, 5 demonstration gardens, and 22 private gardens on the tour. Too much to see in 6 hours without proper planning.

This is Echinacea sanguinea blooming in my backyard prairie right now and not on the tour.