The Importance of Prairies

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In the late 1700’s settlers moved to Ohio and found over 300 prairie openings surrounded by forests in the western half of the state. It was documented that over 1,500 square miles (or 1 million acres) of tall grass prairies once existed in Ohio and the majority of Clark County. The types varied from sand ridge prairies along Lake Erie, to savannahs, short grass and tall grass prairies and wetlands ecosystems. The species that were in grassland ecosystems are found in every county of the state. Today, there are less than 100 acres of original, unturned prairies remaining and wetlands are  under pressure throughout Ohio.

WHAT IS A PRAIRIE?

Prairies are unique and complex ecosystems. Many species of animals depend on these ecosystems for their survival. They provide a rare native habitat for birds, butterflies, insects, reptiles, and other wildlife that live only in prairie environments. Established prairies contain deep, rich soil that is a dense tangle of roots and bulbs. Some prairie plants grow up to 9 feet tall and put out roots that extend 12 feet below the surface. Each year some of the roots die, allowing large quantities of organic matter to be added to the soil as they decompose, creating rich and fertile soil. The roots also act as pathways for water to enter the soil to recharge the ground water tables. They also act as a water filtration system, cleaning water as it passes underground.

Creating a prairie habitat at your home can turn expensive labor-intensive lawn areas into a beautiful, low maintenance landscape fairly quickly, economically and grow for many years. The grasses that grow in a prairie, such as; big bluestem, Indiangrass and switchgrass have round, hollow, jointed stems, narrow leaves,  flowers without petals and hard grain-like seeds. Coneflower, blazingstar, sawtooth sunflower, prairie dock, wild bergamot and spiderwort are some of the native flowering prairie plants.

ESTABLISHING PRAIRIE HABITATS

When planning and establishing these areas, we start by mowing the area during the first year when the growth reaches 10 to 14 inches (usually three times). During the second growing season, we will mow the area to about 6 inches in early summer. A second mowing may be required if weeds are prevalent. In the spring of the third year, the entire site will be burned in a controlled burn situation as weeds and grass are just starting to green up. Normal burning dates are early to mid-March. If burning is not an option, we mow the entire site  before growth begins in the spring. The prairie’s growth and development can be maintained in future years by burning or mowing every 3 to 5 years. A burning or mowing regime normally controls most weed problems and produces a healthy prairie habitat.

LOCAL PRAIRIE AREAS

National Trail continues to establish and maintain prairie areas in several different locations:

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