Diane approached VLAWMO in 2014 to learn about how she could fill space in her front and back yards, contribute to pollinator habitat, and to improve a degraded, shady slope. Along the way she learned about the benefits of native vegetation including its use to cover septic mounds and hold soil in place. The native plants selected are suited for their location in the yard, whether it's the dry, sunny front or the shady back slope. Years later, the established prairie is an enjoyable feature for her, the abundant pollinators, and even the neighbors. Visitors and passers-by alike experience a view that's always evolving with different colors and textures throughout the year.
Front of property: ¼ acre mound system septic area and prairie pollinator project (seed and plugs)
Back of property: 2,400 ft2 sloped, shade erosion control project
Native plants included throughout: Anise hyssop, Indian grass, purple coneflower, yellow coneflower, goldenrod, bee balm, dwarf bush honeysuckle, Pennsylvania sedge, among others.
What motivated you to plant a prairie and restore your slope?
The prairie was a very sunny spot we felt could be managed better by planting native pollinators rather than allowing volunteer invasive vegetation to dominate. Previously volunteer reed canary grass and other invasive weeds were taking over. We didn’t want to take the grass turf route. After preparing the site with spot herbicide applications, a combination of native seeds were sowed and plugs planted to bring in the native vegetation. A controlled burn was conducted on the prairie project in 2020.
The slope presented us with an ongoing erosion issue dominated by invasive buckthorn. Restoring the slope fit with our long term goal of removing buckthorn from our property and replacing it with native vegetation.
What do you enjoy most about the native plantings in the front and back yards?
We enjoy the daily changes that one sees in the habitat, both in terms of the plants themselves and the visitors of bees, butterflies, and birds that change daily. The color is also amazing, and our neighbors tell us they enjoy seeing it evolve over the seasons as they drive by. It’s a great reminder for how we’re connected to nature.
How have the plantings changed your interaction with your yard?
I was trying to manage the sites myself, but I didn’t have the knowledge or experience to control the invasive vegetation. Ultimately, we hired a contractor to manage it. We’ve never had a turf lawn, but I can imagine our projects are cost effective when one considers all of the regular mowing and seasonal tasks that come with turf, not to mention the water usage. We avoid all of those costs, and it’s certainly better for the environment.
What’s the most challenging part of the native plantings?
At this point we’re still in the establishment phase. Keeping out the invasive vegetation while the natives become firmly established requires patience. Goldenrod is a native plant, but its also very aggressive and can take time to balance out with the other species. When I was trying to do a lot of it myself I went through a steep learning curve. Now I can rely on the expertise of others and be part of a team making informed decisions. We have prairie, woodland, and wetland sites on our property; each is different in terms of vegetation and management requirements.
What has surprised you along the way?
I suppose it’s ok to not get it right the first time. You’ll try something and learn from it, then go at it again. It’s a mindset of being open and tuned in to what nature is doing and how it’s responding to one’s efforts. All in all, it’s very rewarding.
What would you do differently if you created another native planting/garden? Any advice to offer others?
I wouldn’t be afraid to ask other people for advice, to glean information wherever I can get it. If there’s classes or just talking to other people, it all adds up.
It’s important to have realistic expectations for what you can do both in the short and the long term. It helps to have a 3-5 year plan to refer back to annually. It’s not like laying down sod and getting a quick result with a manicured lawn; the planning reflects that with having annual goals and evaluations. It does become more comfortable, and one becomes more confident over time.
You can embark on a project like this or adapt it to your liking, and VLAWMO is here to help! Learn more about our cost-share program on our grants page.