The goal of prairie and woodland management is to restore areas of greenspace to the condition that existed prior to the westward expansion in the 1800s.
The original prairies consisted of grasses and forbs with upwards to over two hundred species. Today, much of the open greenspace is land that was farmed and so the native prairie plants were removed. After farming stopped, the plants that grew were largely fast growing, non-native species, e.g., weeds. Over the past decade, the Greenspace Committee has been working to restore several sites. These sights have been cleared and replanted with seeds from approximately 70 species. Prairies need several years to mature because the roots of prairie plants can be 10 to 15 feet deep. Burning is also essential to establishing and maintaining the prairie. These plants evolved with fire, either started naturally by lightning or started by native Americans. Fire tends to preferentially kill off non-native plants and also prevents encroachment by shrubs and trees. You can see a restored prairie at the entrance to Marina Drive. Adjacent to this site along Marina Drive is a native hill prairie remnant that has been cleared of shrubs and burned to bring back the original grasses.
Most of the greenspace consists of woodlands. Originally the woodlands were much more open than they are today, often as oak savannahs. Grazing when the area was farmed also kept them open, but when farming stopped new trees began to grow. Today, the woodlands are much denser than they were in the past. The recent growth of trees over the past 25 years can be harmful to the existing large trees, like the oaks that are shade intolerant. The new trees also compete for nutrients with the existing trees. The net result is that the trees can become more susceptible to disease. Today, woodland management consists of selective cutting of trees to remove invasive species and to open the canopy for the existing large native trees. Burning is also beneficial to woodlands because it encourages the regeneration of native understory plants. The oaks are resistant to fire, so burning will tend to regenerate oak savannahs and woodlands.
A prairie is a community of grasses, forbs (wildflowers), shrubs, animals, and microorganisms. Prior to the westward expansion, the great majority of the land in the Midwest consisted of tall grass prairies and oak savannas. The environmental conditions in a prairie can be extreme: intense sunlight, late spring snows, and high winds. Prairie plants evolved to cope with these extreme conditions. Up to two-thirds of a prairie plant is contained below ground in its root mass(with roots 10-15 feet deep), and the roots help the plant take up nutrients and water from the soil. The prairie ecosystem resulted in extremely fertile soil that was transformed into farmland. Today, only about 0.1% of the original prairie remains. The Galena Territory was formerly farmland, and thus almost all of the original prairie is gone. In places where the slopes are steep, farming was impossible, so a number of prairie remnants remain. It is also possible to restore the prairies, and this has been done in a number of open areas of the Greenspace. The restorations are being done for several reasons. First, the prairie is a part of our heritage in the Midwest. It has created the beautiful and productive soils that dominate this area. Second, the prairie provides wildlife habitat. You may see signs of butterflies, bobolinks, red fox, opossums, northern harriers, jackrabbits, raccoons, American toads, leopard frogs, and many nesting birds. Third, due to their massive root systems, prairies prevent erosion while rebuilding worn out soil. Erosion control is particularly important here with our steep ridges. Finally, the prairie provides the constantly changing kaleidoscope of colors and textures throughout the growing season.Prairie management initially requires a great deal of effort, but once the prairie is established, it can thrive with only limited management. Here are the major steps in the process.
Soil and Site Preparation
The plants on formerly farmed fields generally consist of invasive plants and weeds. In this case, the easiest way to prepare the site is to use a herbicide, like round-up, to kill off the weeds. Applications should be made several times over the course of 6-12 months, since the seeds in the soil will sprout anew. Another alternative is to till the soil several times to help remove the weeds.
A good seed source is also very important. If you are restoring a prairie, make sure that you are using plants and seeds that are native to the region. The use of local ecotype seed should be considered. Ecotype refers to the genetic make up of the prairie plant or in this case prairie seed, while local refers to less than fifty miles from the site being restored. Prairie plants of local ecotype have co-evolved over thousands of years to the local climate conditions and often they developed resistance to local pests and diseases. This is important to the vitality of the prairie being restored as prairies planted with non-local ecotype seed may not have the same resistance. Local ecotype seed is important to local wildlife like butterflies that are specialized in the plants they pollinate. We are fortunate to have local sources of prairie seed through the Prairie Enthusiasts. The mixture used on our restorations has seeds from approximately 70 species of plants.
The preferred method for larger areas is broadcast seeding. The seed is spread by hand or a mechanical spreader similar to a fertilizer spreader. The size of spreader can vary greatly. Another method is to plant individual prairie plants. These plants are typically available as small seedlings called plugs. This method is the most expensive and time consuming. It is most appropriate for small plantings or hard to establish species. Often grasses establish more easily than forbs.A prairie can be planted either in the spring or in the fall. Spring planting should occur after the ground temperature has reached 55ºF, which usually occurs in April until the end of June. Fall planting, late October through mid November, is also appropriate. In fact, some forbs respond better in fall plantings. However, high winter mortality of the seedlings and predation of the seeds during the winter can reduce the success rate of fall plantings.
Management of the reconstructed prairie
Management during the first and second years consists mainly of weed control. Since the weeds sprout first and grow faster than the new prairie plants, the weeds can be controlled in the first year by mowing with the mower set 6-8 inches above the ground. During the second year, the prairie plants will begin to crowd out the weeds and weed control should be done by hand pulling. By the third year, the prairie planting is ready for its first burn. The roots of the plants should be developed enough that the plant can withstand burning. Burning should be continued for the next 3 to 4 years or until the prairie is well established. Burning is recognized as a management tool for prairies but is also very helpful during the restoration and reconstruction of a prairie. Burning stresses exotic plants and creates microclimates more suitable for the native prairie plants. The time of year and frequency of the burns will depend on the goals of the burn. Most prairie restorationists feel it should be burned every two to four years once established. If the prairie is large, burn no more than 1/4 - 1/3 of area to reduce the amount of wildlife habitat disrupted or destroyed with the burning. To be the most useful, burns should occur in early spring from the last week of March through the first part of May or in late fall from September to October after the growing season has ended. Although spring burns are most often recommended, burning too early may injure early blooming plants and stimulate unwanted growth of sweet clover and Queen Anne's lace. Mowing can be used as an alternative where burning is not allowed. When mowing, remove plant residue so that it doesn't smother desirable prairie plants and seedlings. If the exotics persist, a herbicide can be used.
For more information on prairie management, check out these websites:
The woodland areas of the Galena Territory represent our largest single environment. Prior to European settlement, approximately 75% of the Driftless Area was estimated to be woodland with much of that woodland being more open oak savannas. With the Westward expansion, many of the trees were cut down to make way for farming and to provide fuel for smelting lead ore. The remaining woodlands were used for cattle grazing, and the grazing kept those areas open. When the Territory was formed about 30 years ago, the farming and grazing stopped, allowing the woodlands to fill in. Today, our woods are quite dense with new growth of trees and understory shrubs and plants. Some of the growth is desirable, but some is creating problems that requires active management to correct. The steps in woodland management are:
Tree and Brush Removal
The high density of new growth is placing stress on our old grow trees and making it difficult for native woodland plants to grow. Some of the new growth consists of non-native plants that are crowding out the native plants. In the past, nature handled this situation with occasional burns that acted to keep the woodlands more open and healthy. Today a combination of manual cutting and controlled burns are effective means of controlling growth. Our oak trees are fire tolerant, whereas non-native species typically are not.
Removal of Invasive Plants
Garlic mustard is perhaps the greatest concern. It is a non-native plant the rapidly spreads in the woodlands, crowding out our native woodland wildflowers. We are working hard to remove the garlic mustard, but we need everyone’s help to control this invasive plant. Multi-flora Rose is an invasive shrub that can best be controlled with controlled burns, but it can also be removed manually. Box elder trees are also a problem that can be best dealt with through cutting.
In many areas, the natural species diversity has been lost, and new native species can be introduced via interseeding. Interseeding is simply the addition of seed to a community or area without preparing the site first with herbicide or tilling. Interseeding is done after tree and brush removal and invasive species control. The preferred time for interseeding is late fall. The establishment of new species can take 2 to 10 years depending on the site conditions and the species planted. Seeds of plants used in reconstructions should be of local origin, as is the case with prairie reconstructions.
This site was last updated on 5/21/2013 10:21 PM
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