Habitat Restoration - Prairies

Bison graze on the restored prairie at the Belwin Conservancy. Photo Credit: ?

Bison graze on the restored prairie at the Belwin Conservancy. Photo Credit: ?

Prairies were a large part of the pre-settlement environment in Washington County, covering much of the southern third of the county, and extending farther north as openings within the forests and savanna. Prairie grasses and wildflowers, with their deep roots (up to 14 feet long) are valuable to hold the soil in place, filter water runoff, and allow for great vistas and views. There are many wildlife species that require expanses of prairie, such as bobolinks and meadowlarks. Prairies are especially useful on hillsides, to hold the soil from eroding. Residents in Washington County are lucky to have several native plant suppliers located nearby, and most local ordinances allow for the restoration of prairie into the landscape.

Prairies were common in pre-settlement Washington County. 

Prairies were common in pre-settlement Washington County. 

There are prairie species suited to all land conditions, from dry and wet areas, to the middle ground called "mesic."

There are prairie species suited to all land conditions, from dry and wet areas, to the middle ground called "mesic."

Considerations in restoring a prairie include:

  • Time. It often takes 3-4 years until it is well established and looks successful.
  • Low maintenance. Once it is fully established, it needs little water or mowing.
  • Not "no-maintenance". Weeding and occasional prescribed burns are needed.
  • Expense. Costs can vary from budget "do-it-yourself" versions, to contract services.

Prairie options include:

  • Native grass pastures or hayfields
  • Prairie gardens, as part of home landscaping
  • Larger acreage (such as that large expanse of land that used to get mowed)

There are prairie species suited to all land conditions, from dry and wet areas, to the middle ground called "mesic." Once you have determined the moisture regime of your land, you can research the spectrum of plants that are best suited for that condition.

For additional information on restoring prairies, see Going Native, a prairie restoration guide for Minnesota landowners created by the MN Department of Natural Resources.

For a list of native plant consultants and suppliers click here. The web-sites for many of the seed or plant suppliers provide additional information prairie establishment, often including cost estimation. For smaller scale projects, see the Blue Thumb page.