What to Expect When You’re Expecting a Perennial Prairie: A Three-Year Growing Journey

Julie Blackburn, CFM
Water Business Unit Leader
February 7, 2023

Seed Mix Demonstration Blog Series

ISG’s Plant Ecology team invites you to journey with us over a three-year period as we transform six sections of Sportsman’s Landing in La Crescent, Minnesota into thriving native plant demonstration sites. The area provides multiple landscape design opportunities to restore shoreline, enhance a stormwater basin, and elevate parking lot islands all while increasing habitat for pollinators.

What’s so special about native plants?

Native plants are defined as plants that have historic roots in a specific geographic area and are adapted to local conditions. These plants play an important role in our ecosystem as the foundation of the food web, the primary producers in the trophic pyramid. The benefits of native plants are numerous: improved water quality, carbon sequestration, erosion control, urban cooling effects, wildlife habitat, pollination—the list goes on and on.

Why use native prairie in landscape architecture design?

In landscape design, the primary benefits of using native prairie seed mixes are lower maintenance and increased biodiversity, maximizing the ecological impacts of the landscape. Many of ISG’s clients want low-maintenance and low-cost options within the landscape of their building or site. A growing segment of our clients are also concerned about environmental issues facing our planet and want to implement sustainable practices within their project. Whether it’s coming from a place of economic or environmental conservation, native landscapes are good choice to achieving both goals.

Six Native Plant Landscaping Demonstration Areas

Often it can be difficult for clients to visualize what the final native landscape will look like. Native plants can have a negative perception as being unkept and messy looking. When done right, in collaboration with knowledgeable plant ecologists and savvy landscape architects, clients can achieve a colorful and orderly landscape aesthetic using native plants.

To help ISG clients envision what level of native plantings they can expect for different applications at different price points, the ecology team planted six demonstration areas using perennial seed mixes and live plant plugs. Planting an array of price points helps demonstrate how upfront investment impacts the final look. In short, you get what you pay for. Price point differentials can range from $300–$3,000 per acre depending on project goals, species composition, and seeding rate. The six native landscaping demonstrations are described in some detail below and offer a glimpse of what we can expect to see as these seeds take root.

Native Grass-Only Seed Mix

  1. Short grasses
  2. Low cost and maintenance
  3. Lowest price point

Basic Budget Prairie Seed Mix

  1. Standard mixed height wildflowers and grasses
  2. Lower price point and available at most seed vendors
  3. Beneficial pollinator and aesthetic component

Short + Showy Seed Mix

  1. A deluxe mix of short wildflowers and grasses
  2. High species diversity and seeding rate
  3. Blooming wildflowers throughout the growing season

Pollinator Shoreline Seed Mix

  1. Mixed height wildflowers and grasses
  2. Riparian species great for shoreline restorations
  3. Blooming wildflowers throughout the growing season

Stormwater Pond Enhancement

  1. Native plant plugs to enhance existing stormwater pond
  2. Implementation of green infrastructure Best Management Practices to improve site aesthetic and function

Pollinator Lawn Enhancement

  1. Native plant plugs to enhance existing turf lawn
  2. Pollen and nectar resources for pollinators in areas that are regularly mowed and walked on

Perennial Prairies take Patience

In the summer of 2022, the City of La Crescent prepared the site for seeding by removing the existing turf vegetation and lightly tilling areas that had been compacted.

Then in November 2022, ISG Plant Ecologists sowed each of the four seed mixes. November may seem like a strange time to plant seeds, but unlike garden veggies, most native plants are best planted in the fall so their seeds can break dormancy over the winter, a process known as stratification. Seed is mixed with a carrier to add bulk and facilitate a more even distribution across the site.

In spring of 2023, the live plugs will be planted in the stormwater and pollinator lawn areas and management activities will begin to ensure the little seedlings are set up for successful establishment.

Unlike what our world has become accustomed to, there is no instant gratification in planting native seeds. Establishing perennial plants from seed will take time, some low maintenance, and patience before we see a beautiful, blossoming habitat. This is part of the purpose of this project, to help manage client expectations and inspire more clients to consider native plants as part of their landscape design.

Watch + Grow!

Stay tuned for an update in July to see how the baby seedlings are growing and what to do during the first growing season to ensure proper site establishment.

To learn more about establishing native plants, check out ISG’s Client Guide to Habitat Restoration.

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Julie Blackburn, CFM
Water Business Unit Leader
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Julie Blackburn, CFM

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