Postscript from the Prairie

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Photo: LLELA staffAs another Texas summer is coming to an end, it is worth mentioning how well our native plants are doing on the prairie. There are numerous native Texas plants that can shrug off our hot, dry summers, and we grow many of them in the nursery as a part of the restoration effort on the property. The plants are not given special treatment at LLELA. In fact, it is just the opposite. Most of the plants are planted on the prairie by college students that have never walked through tall grass or held a trowel in their hands. The plants are unceremoniously placed into the unforgiving soil, hopefully roots pointing down, and, without even a drop of water or a sprinkle of fertilizer, they are left on their own to thrive in the kiln-fired soil of North Texas.  Surprisingly, these plants manage to succeed and multiply year after year. These same plants also do well in a low-maintenance landscape program.

Little BlueOne of the most underrated native plants is Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium). It is a small, clumping grass that has a beautiful pale blue/green color in the summer and an orange/brown color in the fall. It likes full sun and a variety of soil types. While other plants are fading in the August heat, Little Bluestem is still going strong.

Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans) is a prairie tallgrass that thrives at  LLELA. It is larger than Little Bluestem and would make a great garden accent plant. The blades of Indian Grass are a similar color to Little Bluestem, but are much larger. In the fall it sends up striking, narrow plumes of yellow seeds.

LLELA echinaceaThere are many flowering perennials that do well out on our prairie and would also make a nice addition to a low-maintenance garden. The coneflowers (Echinacea spp.) bloom primarily in the early summer, and they provide a good source of food for beneficial insects, especially butterflies and bees. Make sure you buy a native variety that can handle our intense summers, such as Echinacea pallida.   

MonardaWe also see Horsemint (Monarda citriodora) and Beebalm (Monarda fistulosa) return year after year on the prairie. These are tough perennials that have pretty, showy blooms in the spring and early summer. They can also be cut back to the ground in the winter and will come right back in the spring. Be careful with this one – it can take over a flower bed if you let it.          

There are many other native prairie plants that do not require much attention and would make a nice addition to anyone’s residential landscape design. If you would like to see how these plants look, feel free to stop by LLELA’s plant nursery or the Pollinator Garden and have a walk around.   

Thanks to volunteer Susan Myers for this article, and all the hard work she puts in at LLELA.