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Starting and Managing a Front Yard Prairie

Brian Thomas Landscape Designer/Project Manager at Johnson’s Nursery in Menomonee Falls, WI shares tips on how he started and now manages his front yard prairie.

Melinda: What inspired you to convert your front lawn into a prairie?

Brian: I never liked mowing that slope and the kids never played out there so it was pointless to have grass.

Melinda: Please describe the process of converting your front lawn to a prairie.

Brian: The drought of 2012 pretty much killed off the grass on the slope so that year in early winter it was seeded. The evolution of it was quite impressive with all the new species that show up and some have disappeared since then. The first couple years was mowing a couple times a year with some spot chemical treatment and manual removal. It was about year 4 where it really started to fill in and started looking good. Some neighbors thought it was extremely messy and some loved it, now I think everyone enjoys it.

Management is pretty minimal now. It is just keeping up on the things we don’t want before they get out of hand. I incorporated some cultivated varieties as well as natives that weren’t already there. I remove the seed heads of the Canada Goldenrod to try to keep that down and I disperse the seed heads of the plants I like. I also have collected seeds from other prairies and disperse those in late fall. I get all sorts of bees, butterflies and interesting insects, the other night the fireflies were all over the prairie and there were very few on the neighboring properties.

Melinda: Do you mow the prairie once a year?

Brian: Yes, with a line trimmer with a metal blade in spring, but in early winter I cut a path through the middle for the kids to sled.  

Melinda: Since you can’t burn, what weeds (we didn’t notice any) find their way into your prairie? 

Brian: There is buckthorn and Norway Maple tucked in there. I used to have a Norway in the prairie but I removed that pretty early since it was creating a huge mess. I would like to burn once to see how it affects the plants.

Thanks Brian for sharing your experience and these photos of the transition from lawn to prairie:













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