Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Changing Prairie

News Flash! Shirley and Neal of Rock-Oak-Deer in San Antonio were in town visiting relatives last weekend and asked if they could stop by for a tour of my prairie. Click here for their account of the visit. We now return to our irregularly scheduled blog post...

One of the best things about my prairie garden is that it is always changing. From season to season, month to month, week to week, and even day to day, there is always something new to see and discover. One of the most obvious changes is the change in colors as the native plants thrive and decline and their flowers open and fade.

At the end of March, the yellow flowers of Four Nerve Daisy, 
Tetraneuris scaposa, filled the prairie. 

A couple of weeks later in mid-April, the Four Nerve Daisies
 continued to bloom and the purple flowers of Mealycup Sage, Salvia farinacea, and the pale pink flowers of Husker Red Penstemon, Penstemon digitalis 'Husker Red', began to join in the display.

Now, at the end of May, the Four Nerve Daisies are taking a break from blooming and the Echinacia flowers are quickly fading. Meanwhile, the reds of Rock Penstemon, 
Penstemon baccharifolius, Red Yucca, Hesperaloe parviflora, and Indian Blanket, Gaillardia pulchella, take over. 

Here is a closer view of the Rock Penstemon that is growing near a Pale-Leaf Yucca, Yucca pallida. In front of the yucca are the dried flowers of Four Nerve Daisy and, in the right corner, a few stems of Liatris that will fill the prairie with purple spikes of flowers in the fall.

Near the sidewalk, Indian Blanket and Horsemint, Monarda 
citriodora?, are in full bloom. Horsemint is a native annual beebalm. 

The winter and spring rains that "ended" our drought came to an end in April. Plants are beginning to show signs of stress due the dry soil and rising temperatures. The leaves of many plants are a noticeably duller green than they were a few weeks ago and some are beginning to wilt in the afternoon sun. According to yesterday's weather broadcast, we are over three inches below our normal rainfall for May, however we are still three inches above normal for the year, due to the rain that fell earlier in the year.

The next changes for my prairie will be a transition into a summer dormancy so the plants can survive the hot, dry weather. This is not the most attractive time for my prairie. If ever my prairie looks like a bunch of weeds, it is during the heat of the summer. 

Maybe this weekend I will tidy up the prairie by deadheading spent flowers and removing the tall growth of the Mealycup Sage and other spring bloomers. It will not be long before I turn on the sprinklers for the first time since last September. (That's over 8 months with no supplemental watering other than hand watering of new transplants and veggies!) The goal is to provide the plants with just enough water to keep them on the green side of dormancy until the first rains of fall bring life and color to the prairie once again.


  1. Looking at your wonderful pictures, I realized yet another benefit of having a native garden. We old guys need to have lots of changes in our lives in order to challenge new brain cells to grow. This changing landscape is WAY easier than rearranging the furniture or going on trips. Gardening is already the major indicator of a long healthy, happy life but the native garden gives even more benefits, including to conserve water, save money and help preserve species.

    1. Nice sentiments, Marilyn. There are times when this type of landscaping requires a little extra effort, but the benefits are far greater.

  2. I have the same changes beginning in my prairie/meadow/hellstrip garden. I see the decrease in the Mealy Cup Sage. I planted a four nerve daisy last october I purchased in San Angelo. I am extremely happy with it. Great garden features.

    1. greggo, I am glad the four nerve daisy is working out for you. Mine has not fared well this year. I lost several plants over the last couple of months. I am not exactly sure why. They looked great and bloomed all winter. Maybe they are just worn out.

  3. A nice overview of the phases of your garden this spring. I enjoyed seeing just where my visit fit into the transition.

    Thanks for the link!

  4. I really enjoy seeing the transitions as the season progresses!

    1. Thanks Gaia Gardener. It is amazing how much the garden changes throughout the year. It is a nice contrast from my neighbor’s yards that are green or brown, mowed or unmowed, or weedy or not.

  5. What a feast for the eyes!!! Well done. Well done.

  6. I am trying to convert my over-processed lawn into a totally natural site. I am finding a great many stumbling blocks. My biggest worry is the Dallas City Ordinance about the height of "weeds" in the yard. Do you think the natuve signs would help that problem? I also have talked to a few landscape designers who want to help. Their first suggestion is to haul in truckloads of soil amendments. Doesn't that defeat the purpose of using the available soil of the Blackland Prairie???!! I'd love to learn more about your gardening if you wouldn't mind me emailing with a few questions. thanks!!!

  7. Gena, as long as your landscape is maintained and looks intentional, rather than looking like you are lazy, then you should be OK with the city. Just follow the links on my June 1 post about the Water Wise Landscape tour. This event is organized by the City of Dallas Water Utilities department. If you look at the tour map, you can probably find gardens near you that have atypical landscapes. They have photos and plant lists posted too.

    The signs are probably most useful for your neighbors. If you are the first one in your neighborhood to lose the lawn, your neighbors will need help understanding what you are doing. A neighbor told me just today that he and his wife did not like my yard at first but now they are getting used to it and it times it is even beautiful (his words). Right now, I don’t even think it is beautiful because some spring wildflowers are going to seed and some of the plants are going dormant for the summer. But all of that is OK because it will burst into bloom after the summer heat passes.

    I did not amend my soil much. I added a little lava sand and expanded shale to help with drainage of the clay, but I am not even sure that was necessary. I don’t think it is necessary to add lots of soil amendments for the entire garden; however you may want to amend the soil more on a plant by plant basis. Of course it all depends on what kind of soil you have.

    I will send you an email.


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