“Before I had grandchildren, all of my pictures were of our prairie,” says Nor Olson, looking over her low-maintenance landscape in Stillwater Township. A native mix of wildflowers and grasses now surround her house — where lawn and a weedy farm field once comprised the view.

For the Olsons, reducing costly and time-consuming upkeep was a major motivation — avoiding the consumptive practices of mowing, watering, fertilizing, and applying pesticides.

Metro-Area Requirements

Native flower gardens are popular and encouraged by many cities. If you want to convert your entire lawn into a prairie, however, check with your city first to see if there are restrictions. Some communities have guidelines for prairies, such as:

  • Keep it short in the front yard (less than 12″ tall)
  • Maintain a mowed area along lot lines (including the street) and near buildings
  • Mow the entire prairie at least once a year
  • Control noxious weeds such as thistle if they appear
Prairie flowers bloom as a result of low-maintenance landscaping.
Late summer blooms are just one of the advantages of a low-maintenance landscape of prairie plantings.

Key to establishing a native mix of grasses and wildflowers is paying attention to sun exposure and soil type, according to the University of Minnesota Extension service.

Achieving a Low-Maintenance Landscape

The Olsons worked with Minnesota Native Landscapes, a company specializing in the installation and management of native plant communities. First, they prepared the site by re-contouring the land so that rainwater would no longer run off into the woods.

Wildflowers and native grasses are a result of the low-maintenance landscaping that produced this sustainable prairie garden.
During the summer and fall, native gardens are awash in color and attract many butterflies and bees.

“It’s kind of like a super-sized raingarden,” says Olson.

Then they seeded the area with a mix of native wildflowers and grasses. Now that the garden is established, the only maintenance required is the occasional controlled burn, every three to five years.

In addition to the benefits of the garden’s low maintenance, Olson says that the natural beauty of the prairie is her greatest reward. Purple coneflower, black-eyed Susans, and feathery big bluestem attract abundant birds and butterflies to the area which is nestled between woods and wetland — a microcosm of the habitats of the St. Croix Valley.

Abundant prairie coneflower seedpods are just one result of low-maintenance landscaping.
The seed cluster of a purple coneflower underscores the sustainability of low-maintenance landscaping.

Learn More About Low-Maintenance Landscaping

Download the prairie restoration handbook (below), produced by the Minnesota DNR, or visit www.BlueThumb.org to find local seed sources and businesses specializing in prairie restoration and management.

If planting a prairie will help a lake or stream, you may qualify for cost-share assistance from your local watershed district.

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