Prairie plants aren't just the tall, dry, bluestem grasses popularised by modern literature and television in America's post-settlement era. Prairie plants include flowers, grasses, trees and shrubs from various habitats, according to gardening expert and author Allison Kerr. Lots of sunshine, space to spread out and well-drained soils are key to successful prairie plant gardening. Even some traditional flowering prairie plants are sometimes classified as "weeds" by community officials in this era of manicured lawns and gardens. Check with your local government officials before gardening with prairie plants to be sure you're not violating local anti-weed ordinances.
Select a sunny, well-drained site for your prairie garden. Match the site to the types of prairie plants you'll cultivate. Ask your local extension agent for guidance about what prairie plants will thrive in your available soil.
Clear your selected site of all grass and weeds about 60 days before you plan to spread your seeds. Pull out all roots. Prairie plants don't grow well in competition for moisture and nutrients in the soil.
Spread sheets of black plastic over the prairie plant site. Secure the plastic with rocks or logs. This will kill any emerging plants or weeds that may germinate after you weed the site.
Start prairie plant seeds indoors in late winter or early spring. Plant the seeds in peat pots or scatter them thinly in a flat filled with a half-half mix of potting soil and sand. Water well.
Cover your pots and flats with clear plastic to retain moisture. Water when condensation thins on the inside of the plastic. Keep your flats or pots in a warm area out of direct sunlight.
Transplant your prairie plants into your well-tilled planting site as soon as the soil warms and dries in the spring. If you're planting a large area, broadcast additional seed into the warm soil after frost danger has passed.
Cover your prairie plants and seeds with a thin layer of straw mulch to retain moisture. Allow your prairie to grow unimpeded and self-sow for several years until plants are mature. Don't mow.
Some flowering prairie plants take up to five years to bloom. For quicker colour and texture in your prairie garden, buy a few mature prairie plants from a nature centre. Inter-plant them among the growing plants. Remember that up to 60 per cent of traditional prairie plants are tall grasses with tiny seeds. Try mixing your planting seeds with dried sawdust to make seed-spreading easier.
Your prairie garden can thrive in dry, hot weather but can also become a fire hazard. Never smoke, burn leaves or light a campfire near your prairie garden in dry weather. Leave at least 20 feet between your prairie garden and your home, garage, garden shed or animal shelter.