Making of a Prairie

When we bought our property in Bloomington, we knew that it came with a ‘karst preservation easement'(20.07.070 e5(A)),  that forbid us to alter the geology, and required us to plant it in native plants.  For some, this would be a detrimental restriction on the property, but for us it was an excuse to ‘go native’ and justify not having a neatly mowed green lawn.  The property intersects a ‘dog bone’ shaped area that is the karst, with the outer ends being 25 ft radius circles.  The northern circle is a wet area, and the southern area has a small sink hole from which several black walnuts are growing.  While this is labeled by the city as a karst, it doesn’t show up anywhere on the Indiana Geological karst maps (2011 survey).



The lot was a typical development, cut out from an old farm pasture.  Historical maps of Indiana show no prairie in southern Indiana (it was traditionally woods), so the idea of planting native became somewhat of an inside joke (are plants from a nursery in central Indiana native?, are the same species brought over from Missouri native?).

Fall 2015

The first thing after purchasing the lot was to throw out some butterfly weed seeds in the wet area. Outside of a 10 foot circle of reeds and sedge became a ‘kill zone’ of spraying Round-Up on the orchard grasses.  This spraying was repeated on several subsequent visits to the lot.

Spring 2016

After moving into the new house, the karst are was fairly torn up from construction traffic, and the herbicide had taken care of the rest.  Raspberries and wild rose (non-native) were cut back from the sink hole.   The area to be planted was worked up with a de-thatcher in preparation for planting.  From the previous fall, I had collected a number of seeds.  A 10 ft strip by the street was seeded with Buffalo grass, so the prairie would look like a deliberate planting and not a neglected patch of weeds.  I had a number of plants which I had purchased or collected in Missouri (dropseed, Jerusalem artichoke, palm sedge, golden ragwort, New England aster, blue flag, hazelnut bushes, beauty bush, service berry).

Several trips were made through the spring to EcoLogic (a local native plant nursery) for additional plug plants (liatrus,  compass plant), along with opportunistic transplants from All Saint’s Orthodox Church’s construction site (daisy, cone flower).



Summer 2016

As expected, growth was slow on the small plants, and the annual orchard grasses took advantage of the open soil; delightfully a number of natives also showed up on their own (golden rod, jewel weed, blue eyed grass, iron weed).

Fall 2016

A lot of seeds (liatrus, rattlesnake master, compass plant, prairie dock, false sunflower, coneflower, siena, common milkweed, swamp milkweed, little bluestem, tickseed sunflower, wingstem) were gathered through the summer and fall, and sown over the prairie area in early December, many of these seeds were also planted in several raised beds, for transplanting in the future.

Spring 2017

I am always impatient and thinking that things won’t come back, but gardening takes patience.

April 1:

  • Cinquefoil growing (never fully died back)
  • Joe Pye Weed starting to come up (turns out to be Culver Root)
  • Rattlesnake master beginning to grow
  • Prairie Dock growing (never fully died down)
  • Sedges and rushes growing
  • Queen of the Prairie starting to come back
  • New England Aster leaves coming out
  • Monarda appearing

April 9th:

  • Bluebells blooming
  • Golden Ragwort setting buds
  • Blue Flag Iris leaves appearing
  • Service berry blooming
  • Hazelnut buds swelling
  • Mayapple spreading its leaves
  • Trillium blooming
  • Trout lilly blooming

May 1st:

  • Most things are up (with the exception of a few milkweeds).  Rabbits are nicely pruning back the tops of New England Asters, Queen of the Prairie and anything else to their liking (which is about everything).
  • Buttonbush is sending out leaves
  • Walnuts are just beginning to leaf
  • Spiderwort is flowering
  • Dame’s Rocket is blooming
  • Baptisia is small, but looks like it all came back
  • Rabbits had trimmed the beauty berry, but it is coming back from the roots
  • Orchard grass (unfortunately) is shooting up
  • Got a plum and lots of plants (mostly for the woodland) from EcoLogic
  • Healthy population of cone flowers sprouting

The shortage of liatrus may be due to vole damage.  With the grass cover this winter, I expect they had a good time of it.  I noticed that the soft potting soil was dug out where several plants had been, and expect they went for the roots.  Waiting to see if the Jerusalem artichoke also was part of a banquet (the dirt is quite excavated there).

August 1st:

Deer feeding on prairie

  • Cup plant beginning to bloom
  • Western sunflower and false sunflower blooming
  • Coneflowers and Black-eyed Susan still blooming
  • Rattlesnake Master is blooming
  • Prairie Dock is budding
  • Iron weed is beginning to bloom

Spring 2018

Deer have eaten back the plum and many of the bushes.  A buck antler rubbed the service berry and killed the main trunk.


  • Sprayed buffalo grass with Round-Up.  Doesn’t hurt the dormant grass, but gets the weeds.
  • Transplanted more Little Blue-stem
  • Planted Jerusalem Artichoke tubers (from STL Whole Foods)



  • Beauty Bush finally starting to send sprouts from base, thought it was dead.
  • Similar thoughts about button-bush, but it is coming out.
  • Foxglove is blooming nicely
  • Spiderwort is blooming.
  • Replanted Rattlesnake Master (only one survived)
  • Replanted False-Indigo (only found one)
  • Senna growing
  • Bundle Flower growing
  • Penstemon looks good, adding more plants
  • What liatrus there were are budding
  • Good stand of milk-weed, iron-weed and golden-rod



  • Bluebirds are nesting (again?)
  • Coreopsis seems to have peaked
  • Buffalo grass is seeding, looking good with few weeds.


  • Don’t remember planting it, but happy to see some Poppy Rose Mallow.

August 2018

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  • Purple Coneflower peaking
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  • Mist Flower
  • Snake Root
  • Goldenrod starting to flower (spreading, it goes onto the ‘Naughty List’)
  • Marsh Mallow (white flower only)
  • Evening Primrose (thick along the edge of the field)
  • Yellow Coneflower (only one) peaking
  • Black Eyed Susan
  • Brown Eyed Susan
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  • Rosenweed flowering (one, but several plants)
  • Cup Plant in full flower
  • Wing Stem flowering (needs moving this fall to a better location)
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EcoLogic is ending their nursery, so bought a good bit on sale:

  • Yellow Coneflower
  • Baptisia
  • Queen of the Prairie
  • Penstemon
  • Nodding Onion

Needing Joe Pye Weed (buy in September)