Native Plant Restoration
My husband and I have some creek valley fields that were old abandoned hay and crop fields before we purchased our property. We had many varieties of plants that flourish in old abandoned fields, including fescue and the extremely invasive Spotted Knapweed.
We have always wanted to encourage birds, wildlife and pollinators to our property, with quail and turkey being one of our priorities. Not having cattle, we didn’t need the fescue growing intermingled with unwanted, invasive weeds. The knapweed was taking over at a ridiculous rate, pushing out some of the other plants that deer, turkey, and quail prefer. I learned that young quail can’t get around well in fescue. I had been growing native flowers around the yard for years. We love the benefits of having beneficial pollinators and insects, as well as seeing more birds and other wildlife because of them. After looking over the possible options for our land, we decided to gradually change our fields to a lowland native prairie of sorts, with native warm and cool-season grasses, legumes, and wildflowers, while encouraging native shrubs and understory trees along the forest edges.
It’s been a slow process over the years, with much to learn. Caring for our land is filled with interesting challenges and hot chigger-ridden work. But it has lots of rewards. We can see this little project will naturally stretch out for years to come. The rewards? Beauty and diversity. We’re seeing and hearing many more pollinators and songbirds – including more Indigo Buntings, Warblers, Grosbeaks, Quail and other wildlife.
Welcome, pollinators, birds and wildlife!
2015 (5 years from starting): Someone asked me recently, what advice I might share with someone starting something similar. Here it is:
Start small. As your project grows, be prepared for ongoing labor/maintenance. The biggest expense in restoration is the work itself. Like any project that’s valuable, follow-through is vital. Tell yourself you’ll see wonders and witness the beauty, big and small, beyond your dreams – it’s true! This will help you persevere.
Take your time preparing – reading, asking questions and observing. Encourage the natives already there; learn what the invasive non-native plants look like and discourage them; and when you’re hot and grubby cutting out some invasive plants yet again, don’t get discouraged.
Remember your goal, and the songbirds and other life in that field that will thank you next summer. Good things take time. Ask for help from those who really know — they want to help you. If you’re in Missouri, talk to the Missouri Department of Conservation and native plant professionals such as the Hamilton Native Outpost.
If you do any prescribed burning (it’s very beneficial) get help from those who know. Learn the safety measures – from firebreaks, safety equipment, understanding weather, and airflow, to the right kind of shoes you wear. Make sure you’re ready, with trustworthy people on hand, and let your neighbors and the fire department know you’ll be burning. Call your local conservation department or university for who to contact for workshops on this, extra information and perhaps hired help.
June 2017 – April 2020: The benefits are still wonderful! There is still work to do managing invasive non-natives that sneak in from surrounding areas, but each year it becomes easier. We now see and hear larger coveys of quail, more Monarch caterpillars on milkweed plants, more songbirds nesting, and more diverse native pollinator populations. I feel healthier and happier every time I walk among these incredible native grasses and wildflowers.
Keep a winding path mowed for your morning walk! Have fun noticing the countless rewards each year!
I’ll include a few websites we’ve found useful. In the process of researching native plant restoration, I found an old book, written by John E. Weaver, a man of an earlier era, who was on the ‘cutting edge’ of understanding native prairies. If you’re interested in delving deeper into native plants and prairies, note his book listed below, North American Prairie.
- Grow Native www.grownative.org
- Hamilton Native Outpost www.hamiltonseed.com
- Insect Identification Website www.knowyourinsects.org
- Missouri Botanical Garden – native landscaping www.missouribotanicalgarden.org
- Missouri Department of Conservation – www.mdc.mo.gov
- Missouri Prairie Foundation www.moprairie.org
- Missouri Native Plant Society http://monativeplants.org
- USDA Plants Database www.plants.usda.gov
- Book: Bringing Nature Home – How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens by Douglas W. Tallamy
- Book: Natural Insect Control: The ecological Gardener’s Guide to Foiling Pests Brooklyn Botanic Garden
- Book: North American Prairie by John E. Weaver 1954, Johnsen Publishing Co
- Book: A Photographic Field Guide to the Butterflies in the Kansas City Region by Betsy Betros (and relates to all of Missouri)
- Book: Shrubs and Woody Vines of Missouri by Don Kurz
A note ~ The true, vast prairies of the past, in the state of Missouri, occurred in the northern and western areas of the state. However, small prairie ecosystems with drought-hardy native grasses and forbs have been found in many other areas of Missouri including Missouri’s Ozark Plateau. Keep in mind ~ Tiny prairies and yard-natives offer sustenance for wildlife too.