My Little Patch of Prairie – Blazingstar Farm (2024)

We’ve tried growing tall grasses and prairie plants in the bed previously, but they haven’t had the best luck returning year on year. In 2018 I was feeling well enough that, I decided to get serious about trying to make this bed something attractive. I covered the entire bed with landscape fabric and a layer of red rubber mulch. Then I planted some large zebra miscanthus grasses. They looked pretty good and definitely felt right visually in the long narrow space. But, of the 6 zebra miscanthus we’d planted in 2018, only one came back in 2019. After some research I put in a collection of Indian Grass (Sorghastum nutans) and Little Bluestem (Schizachyriumscoparium)in 2019. I picked these grasses both for their hardiness and the attractive combination of winter color between the golden indian grass and rust red bluestem. The bed looked better last year than it has since I started.

As I reflected on improving the bed this year, I took 2 major sources of inspiration. My own personal experiences with the bed and some insights from “Garden Revolution”.

What I observed:

  1. There’s still a lot of weed pressure in the bed despite having a layer of landscape fabric and mulch.
  2. The back fo the bed seems to be a bit too shady for the grasses, I should think about something else back there.
  3. Plants do way better once I put a low fence up to keep the dogs from trampling them.

From Garden Revolution:

  1. I decided I needed to think more critically about the bed and include some legumes and forbs
  2. I realized I needed to plant the bed much more densely
  3. My aggressive pulling of weeds last year was a bad idea, I should be beheading them instead. Pulling actually disturbs the soil and encourages more weed germination.
  4. A native planting benefits from having direct access to the soil, I shouldn’t be fussing with landscape fabric and synthetic mulch.

The 2020 plan:

My goals for 2020 are to increase the diversity and density of the bed. But, as an experiment I’m also going to logically divide the bed into two zones. The front of the bed near the house will stay a “Prairie” zone focusing on and enriching the existing grass plantings. Behind the Miscanthus, I’m declaring a savannah zone where I’ll try and focus on more shade tolerant species. Towards this end, I’ll be planting the following:

Prairie Zone

Meadow Blazingstar: This is one of three blazing star I’ve planted in the bed. I’m not entirely sure which is best suited to the habitat, so I decided to plant several (skewing heavily toward dense blazingstar. I’ve planted these both because of this blog, and because the tall, upgright nature of the flowers should complement the narrow bed and upright grasses.

Dense Blazingstar: This has the prettiest flowers, so it makes up about 60% of the blazing star planted.

Rough Blazingstar: This has the most elaborate flowers, it’s the least common corm in the mix.

Prairie Smoke: I”ve always loved this flower, ever since it graced the cover of natural geographic back when I was in middle school. I knew I wanted to add something low, that flowers in spring, that would do well with the drier edge of the bed and would double as a ground cover. This fits the bill. So I put 16 of them along the edge. Hoping for a show next April.

Indian Grass: One of the big four prairie grasses. Tall, with showy golden colors, come fall and brighter green foliage throughout the summer.

Purple Prairie Clover: This was a last-minute addition to the mix, but after reading Garden Revolution, I realized I didn’t have anything for nitrogen-fixing in the bed. It helps that I think the purple flowers will match the blazing stars aesthetically.

Little Bluestem: Perhaps the best landscape plant of the big four prairie grasses. a short grass with a blue cast to the leaves in summer and rust-red foliage in fall and winter.

Savannah Zone

Daylillies: I ordered a grab bag of daylilly bulbs. Not sure what I’ll get now, but in a few years I expect them to revert to an attractive orange bloom bobbing over the bed.

Common wood sedge : I wanted a well behaved alternative to little bluestem for the shady side of the bed. Carex blanda is similar in form to little bluestem and should provide much more green early and late in the season.

My Little Patch of Prairie – Blazingstar Farm (2024)
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