The most frequently asked question we get regarding prairies and their installation is this: "You seeded my prairie last fall; it's now spring and I see nothing but weeds. Where is my prairie?"
Many wonder early on how their investment can possibly become a prairie. This is in great part because the first year of growth on the part of native plants is very little, at least to the naked eye. Natives, compared to non-natives (another word for "weeds"), take their time as they grow. They play the long game, rooting as much as they can and storing nutrients for the winter. Many non-natives have a "fast and furious" strategy--get big and produce seed before winter. And by getting big fast, they get a leg up on natives by competing for the sun's rays (and moisture), while the poor natives get left in the shade to struggle (which is why we mow prairies the first year after they've been seeded--to mow the weeds so that the natives can get some sun).
The result of this is that a newly seeded prairie looks like any other weed patch, even though that is not what they are. But it takes a trained eye, like that of our employee, Jeff Evander, to identify what's native and what's not. Here's an example:
This photo was taken last week at a prairie that was seeded last fall. Like many other customers, he looked down at this patch and asked himself how he was going to justify this investment to his wife. We then got the phone call, understandably, asking where his prairie is. In many cases, either Jeff or I will go out to save a marriage. What we see in this prairie is:
1, 2, & 7 Black-Eyed Susan (a fast growing native wildflower that was seeded)
3 Common Ragweed (an annual weed that came up)
4 Maximillian Sunflower (a native wildflower that was seeded)
5 Canada Thistle (a non-native, perennial weed)
6 Grey Headed Coneflower (a native we seeded)
8 - 11 Side Oats Gramma (a native grass that was seeded)
12 Black Medic (a non-native, annual weed from seed already in the soil)
We look at this site and say, "Wow, this prairie is coming in great! Sure, we'll have to manage some of that thistle, and we know there's a lot of Siberian Elm seed in here, but this prairie is on its way."
Admittedly, to the average person, it is tough to see the potential that first year. But, invariably, the second year shows a flush of the faster-growing natives, such as the Black-Eyed Susan, which gives one hope. And the third year, one might see some colors other than yellow, such as lavender (the Monarda) or white (the Yarrow).
So, if you think you're getting the hang of it, take a look a this next photo (again, taken last week) of another prairie that was seeded last fall. What would you say to your spouse after spending a chunk of your hard-earned income on this? (By the way this, too, is a good looking first year prairie.)