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Prairie Moon Nursery COVID-19 Update

Published 2/18/21

To Our Customers & Friends,
Prairie Moon Nursery is very grateful to continue to be able to supply the joy of native plants during this time when we are cooped up at home more than usual. With the nursery industry seeing record demand for seeds and plants, we are happy to report that we have been able to process your orders with precision and speed.

The health and safety of our community continues to be at the forefront of the decisions we are making. We are still diligently following science-based recommendations and the guidance of public health officials, and are strongly encouraging all of our employees to be vaccinated as soon as it’s available for them.

Some members of our team are working from home full time. For our employees that are continuing to come out to the nursery, we require masks, practice social distancing, and sanitize our workspaces daily. We have also taken an extra step and adjusted work schedules to minimize contact across teams.

We would like to address a few questions that you may have about your native plant order:

Are you experiencing shipping delays?
No. We are continuing to ship out orders in an efficient, timely manner.

Are you experiencing a lack of inventory?
There are no significant shortages of seed packets. With that said, harvests on perennial native plants can be variable from year to year, and bulk seed availability may be limited for some species.
PLANTS: As you may already know, it is not uncommon for Prairie Moon to sell out of potted plants before the spring shipping season arrives. Although every year we grow more and more plants with new gardeners in mind, live plants are in very high demand. Be sure to order plants as soon as possible because we are likely to sell out very early this year. Please know that we are doing all we can to get even more native plants to you by expanding our facilities in 2021.

I live near Prairie Moon and would like to pick up an order. Should I change my plans?
As a reminder, we are not a retail garden center; we are a mail-order nursery. To save shipping costs, local customers have been able to pick up orders in the past. At this time, we would prefer to ship your order to minimize the number of people coming to the nursery. If you have already arranged a plant pick up, we will contact you.

Will you be hosting Summer Tours?
With disappointment, we cancelled all 2020 summer tours due to Covid-19. We are hoping to be able to offer socially distanced, outdoor summer tours for 2021, but we feel it is too early in the year to know if that’s something we are going to be able to offer. Please visit our website for updates as the tours draw near. 

We are excited to announce free shipping


Starting January 1st 2021, seed orders over $100 will ship free*

*Free shipping offer applies to retail, online seed orders, shipping within the contiguous US, that reach $100 or more. Custom Seed Mixes get bulk seed pricing so do not qualify. Eco-Grass seed always ships free so does not count toward the $100 minimum. No promo code is needed, look for the FREE shipping in your online cart. If live plants are included with your online seed order, a plant shipping fee will still apply – see plant shipping fees below.


Seed Orders Under $100$5.00
Seed Orders Over $100FREE!
Plant Orders Under $50$7.50
Plant Orders Over $5015%
Tools, Books, Eco-grassFREE!

How to Germinate Native Seeds

The seeds of many native plants have built-in dormancy mechanisms that protect them from germinating before killing frosts or in times of drought.  In the wild, seeds will lie dormant until the proper conditions for growth occur.  But in cultivation, the successful gardener must become familiar with several simple pre-sowing seed treatment methods that will unlock the dormancy mechanism and stimulate quicker, more consistent germination.

We have developed the following seed germination codes to help you successfully grow the native seed sold in our catalog. These seed-treatment suggestions have been compiled from our own experience, available literature, and feedback from other growers and customers. These are only suggestions and not the definitive source of germination information. If your experience reveals successful methods other than these, please let us know.

Until you are ready to plant or apply pre-sowing treatment, seed should be stored in an open container in a cool, dry place, or in a sealed (airtight) container under refrigeration (33–40°F). Avoid rapid or frequent temperature changes and protect against rodents.

In a garden setting, sow seeds shallowly; no deeper than the width of the seed. Keep seedlings carefully weeded. Periodic watering is helpful to establish seedlings. If seed does not germinate the first year, don’t give up; germination may occur the second year or even later.


A: No pre-treatment is necessary:
Seed should germinate upon sowing in a warm location. Germination code A species can be found here.

B: Hot water treatment: This hot water treatment helps break open the hard seed coat. This may happen naturally with freeze/thaw cycles, but better germination can be expected if hot water treatment is done before fall planting outside, or artificial cold-moist stratification in a fridge (Germination Code C). Germination code B species can be found here.

1. Bring water to a boil, remove from heat, and pour over seeds.
2. Soak the seeds at room temperature for 24 hours.
3. Filter through a coffee filter and fine mesh strainer.
4-5. Proceed with germination code C instructions (below).

C (# of stratifying days): Cold, moist stratification needed: To naturally stratify seed, plant outdoors late fall on a weed-free site and allow seed to overwinter. To artificially stratify seed, place seed and medium in a labeled, sealed plastic bag and store in a refrigerator (33-40°F). Stratification medium could be a damp paper towel, coffee filter, sand, vermiculite, or other horticultural-use medium.

We recommend mixing equal parts sand and seed, or slightly more sand than seed. Whatever stratifying medium you choose, be sure to moisten the mixture slowly to a damp but not wet consistency. You should not be able to squeeze any excess water out of the medium.

Stratify for the number of days indicated in parentheses. If two months stratification is required, C(60), one month may work for many species if time is a constraint. Some seeds may sprout in the storage bag. If this occurs with more than a few seeds, plant immediately. Germination code C species can be found here.

1. Using our germination codes, calculate the date to start cold, moist stratification pre-treatment. Rinse or complete a short soak. Pour into a coffee filter, paper towel or fines screen to drain.
2. Arrange seed in a single layer and allow all excess water to drain off.
3. Fold seed loosely into the coffee filter or paper towel to allow for weekly spot checks. The seed and paper should be damp but not wet.
4. Add a dry paper towel to your labeled resealable bag to help to maintain even moisture while pulling excessive moisture away. Do not allow the stratification medium to completely dry our or stay soggy.
5. Place the sealed bag in your refrigerator (not freezer) and monitor weekly, or as needed, until it is time to remove for sowing. Replace coffee filter or paper towel often; repeat from step 1. Once seed has completed the recommended stratification period, or if excessive early sprouting occurs, plant immediately.
1. Place stratification sand into a bowl. We use a 1/3 cup fine stratification sand to 1/8 oz seed ratio (slightly more or less depending on seed size).
Add water. We used 1 to 2 teaspoons of water per 1/3 cup of sand.
2. Mix only enough water to allow medium to form into a ball.
3. Add your seed to the stratification sand and mix together. Our package label will indicate the suggested number of days for artificial stratification i.e. C (60) = 60 days of cold, moist conditions needed.
4. Refrigerate the seed mixture in a sealed plastic bag marked with start and finish dates. Check periodically so that the mixture does not dry out. If premature sprouting occurs, plant immediately.
5. Once cold, moist stratification is complete, sow the seed into rows when the threat of below-freezing temps has past. Keep rows well weeded and thinned.

D: Seeds are very small or need light to naturally break dormancy and germinate: Seed requiring this treatment should be surface-sown. No soil cover, or just a dusting of soil, should be applied. If grown in outdoor beds, sow stratified (if required) seed on a level surface. Cover with a single layer of burlap or cotton sheet to help retain moisture at the soil surface. Remove cover after germination. Do not let soil dry out until seedlings are established. Shading with a window screen set 12” above the soil during the first season will also help prevent drying. If sowing seeds in containers, water from the bottom as necessary. Germination code D species can be found here.

E: In order to germinate, seeds need a warm, moist period (summer) followed by a cold, moist period (winter):  Sow outdoors in spring and allow one full year for germination. To artificially start this stratification process, mix seeds with horticultural-use medium, place mixture in a labeled, sealed, plastic bag and store in a warm place (about 80°F) for 60–90 days. Then place in your refrigerator (33–40°F) for 60–90 days before sowing. Germination code E species can be found here.

F: Seeds need a cold, moist period (winter) followed by a warm, moist period (summer) followed by a 2nd cold, moist period: Sow outdoors and allow 2 years or longer to germinate. To artificially start this stratification process, follow the instructions for Germination Code C for 60-90 days, then store in a warm (about 80°F) place for 60-90 days, followed by a 2nd cold period in the refrigerator. Germination code F species can be found here.

G: Seeds germinate most successfully in cool soil: Sow seeds in late fall (after hard frost) or early spring. Germination code G species can be found here.

H: Seeds need scarification: These species require weakening of the seed coat in order to come out of dormancy. Scarify by rubbing seed between two sheets of medium-grit sandpaper. The goal is to abrade seed coats – stop if seeds are being crushed. Scarification should be done before stratification (Germination Code C) if needed. Fall or winter sown seed should not be scarified to prevent the chance of premature germination and winter kill. Germination code H species can be found here.

I: Legume (member of the pea family): Most legume species harbor beneficial bacteria called rhizobia on their roots. Genus-specific strains of this bacterium called inoculum can aid in the fixation of atmospheric nitrogen and improve long-term health of native plant communities. Inoculum is naturally occurring in most soils and additional amendments are not needed. However, inoculum can be purchased from us for most legume genera here.
Germination code I species can be found here.

J: We remove the hulls from these legume seeds: This gives more seeds per ounce and greatly improves germination. If you have dehulled seed from another source, treat as in Germination Code H. Germination code J species can be found here.

K: Hemiparasitic species which requires a host plant: Good hosts for many hemiparasitic species include low-growing grasses and sedges like Blue Grama, Pennsylvania Sedge, Little Bluestem, and June Grass. With a knife, make a 2” deep cut at the base of the host plant. Sow seed in the cut, making sure seed is not more than 1/8” deep. If host is transplanted at sowing time, the cut is not needed because damaged roots will be available for attachment by the hemiparasite. You may also try sowing hemiparasitic and host species seeds together at the same time. To add hemiparasitic species to existing sites, scatter seed on soil surface (rake in if seed is large) in late fall. Germination code K species can be found here.

L: Plant fresh seed or keep moist: Refrigerate until planting or starting other treatment. Germination code L species can be found here.

M: Best planted outdoors in the fall: Artificial stratification may not work well.
Germination code M species can be found here.

O: Impermeable seed coat: Nick seed coat with knife, and soak in water overnight before planting. Germination code O species can be found here.

?: Not sure: Your input would be of interest to us.

You Can Sow Seed in the Snow!

Winter, even when snow covers your site, is a great time to sow native seed. Planting in winter gives Mother Nature time to stratify seeds through natural freeze-thaw cycles. This stratification process is needed for most wildflower seed to break dormancy and germinate in the spring. Any day through late February on which you can walk around your prepared planting site with relative ease and comfort is potentially a great day to broadcast seed.

You can sow your seed right on top of the snow, but the key is to sow on the right KIND of snow. Plant your seed on fluffy, damp, packable snow. This way, when you sow your seed it will slightly sinks into the snow. Avoid sowing seed on top of icy, crusty snow or it will blow around easily in the wind.

Winter sowing into snow also makes it easier to see where you spread the seed so you get a nice even distribution of your mix.

Don’t put off your seeding until next year; grab your mittens and go snow sowing!

Before you sow any seed, you must prepare your site. Visit our site prep guide here.

For more about how to hand sow a seed mix, see this how-to guide.

The Impact of Neonicotinoids

Neonicotinoids (neo-nih-CAH-tin-oids) are systemic chemicals, which are absorbed into the plant’s vascular system, leaving the entire plant toxic to both target and non-target insects.  Systemic chemicals affect the central nervous system of insects, resulting in paralysis and death. This class of insecticides is particularly harmful to bees as accumulated neonicotinoids are consumed by adults or stored, concentrated, and fed to developing young.

Prairie Moon has never used these insecticides and is proudly neonicotinoid-FREE.

These days we are hearing more reports of Honey Bee die-offs and Colony Collapse Disorder, though the European Honey Bee is but one species of invertebrates facing a precarious future. Native insect species all over the world are subjected to a deadly combination of stresses (with undiscovered species disappearing completely before being properly studied or understood). These stresses are widespread and stem directly from human activity. Habitat loss, fragmented ecosystems, alien organisms, industrial farming practices, climate change and the proliferation of lawns are a few major sources of invertebrate decline. Pesticides, which indiscriminately kill insects by design, pose the most immediate danger to invertebrates worldwide.

Following registration in the mid 1990’s, neonicotinoid use has grown to make this the most widely used class of insecticides in the world. While large-scale agricultural applications account for the greatest levels of cumulative harm (chronic lethal exposure), landscaping and garden use result in higher rates of death (acute lethal exposure) in non-target insects. The most noteable victims of neonicotinoid exposure are pollinator species, which perform a key role in over one-third of our food system. This disproportionate frequency of non-target insect mortality is largely due to the abundance of unregulated insecticides available in retail stores, and a lack of understanding by those who use them.

Neonicotinoids are systemic chemicals, which are absorbed into the plant’s vascular system, leaving the entire plant toxic to both target and non-target insects. Neonicotinoids exhibit long periods of toxicity, with two of the most widely used insecticides persisting in soil at toxic levels for many months and even years. Metabolites (the breakdown product of complex substances) and synergisms (combined substances which result in a greater potency than the original) could make neonicotinoids even more toxic and persistent than is already known.

The accumulation of neonicotinoids may adversely affect many invertebrates beyond those targeted through the initial application. Routes of unintended exposure can originate from spray drift, residual contact, particle exposure (from mechanized planting of treated seeds), as well as exposure through contaminated soil, nesting resources, water, pollen and nectar. Pollen and nectar contamination is especially worrisome for bees as accumulated neonicotinoids may be stored, concentrated, and fed to developing young. Adults can also suffer from chronic and acute exposure, through foraging and ingestion of toxic nectar. The sublethal effects on Honey Bees range from inhibited flight, navigation and taste, in addition to a decrease in learning and foraging ability. Sublethal effects on native bees, such as bumblebees and solitary bees, include reduced food consumption and reproduction success, decreased worker survival, reduced foraging and delayed development.

Environmental stresses are pushing native pollinators to the edge of ecological collapse, with cascading effects seen globally. You can begin helping pollinators right away by conserving and promoting native habitat, gardening with native plants and avoiding insecticide use. Your contributions are essential to curbing the decline of native pollinators and invertebrates. Over one-third of your food supply hangs in the balance.

Reference sources for information on this page were publications of the Xerces Society. View their special reports on Neonicotinoids here.

How to Prep your Site for a Native Seed Mix


Proper site preparation will greatly reduce competition from undesirable species and allow for better establishment of slow-growing perennials. Most sites will require 1 full season of site preparation starting in the spring and ending in the fall. If you have a small site located in a well-manicured lawn, site preparation may be possible in a single afternoon. The most common methods are described in detail below.

Do not underestimate the weed seed bank of your soil. The weed seed bank holds the accrued deposits of dormant weed seeds that have been falling on the soil, sometimes for many years. Weed seed dormancy can be broken by even slight soil disturbance, a change in soil temperature, or a brief exposure to light. These events can cause a flush of new weeds to germinate on a site that previously appeared to be clean. Ideally, site preparation will eliminate the existing plants on site, but also spur the germination of the weed seed bank so they, too, can be eliminated. Although it is tempting to cut corners during this step, the time invested in site preparation is well spent.


This method is great for homeowners looking to convert part of their lawn into garden beds. A sod remover is a gas-powered, or hand-held tool that will slice off the top few inches of grass and soil. They are available to rent at many hardware and home improvement stores. Although this method is labor intensive, it can allow for very quick site preparation. Sod removal is not recommended for large areas or sites with a lot of weeds.


Smothering weeds can be an effective site prep method without the use of any chemicals or special equipment. The idea behind smothering is simple; covering the soil surface for an extended period will kill unwanted plants underneath due to heat and/or lack of light. Common smothering materials include industrial-weight tarps, black or clear plastic, wood paneling, and cardboard covered with wood mulch. It is important to be sure to secure the smothering material with heavy rocks, pallets, or by burying the edges. This will prevent wind from blowing the material off and discourage tenacious plants from pushing the material up from the ground. On smaller sites, cardboard is a good approach. To find large pieces, check your local appliance store to see if they have recycling you can reuse. On larger sites, plastic from tarps or hoop houses can be used. If you live in an agricultural region, you may be able to salvage discarded plastic from local farms.

While smothering will eliminate surface plants, a large weed seed bank may remain in the soil. Once an initial smothering period has occurred, removing the cover from the site will allow weeds from the soil seed bank to germinate. Replace the cover to kill the newly germinated seedlings. This on-again off-again cycle of germination and smothering can be utilized to prepare even the weediest pastures.

Smother/Solarize Example: Timed intervals of 4 to 5 weeks “on” and 1 to 2 weeks “off” can allow multiple waves of weed seeds to germinate before being killed during the following cycle of smothering. Some weeds need to be covered for two years. Smothering a lawn takes less time; usually it can be killed in two months by a close mowing before covering.


Repeated cultivation is a good option for large sites, especially on flat, organically managed land. The key for success using this method is understanding that soil disturbance exposes seeds in the soil seed bank and is followed by more weed growth. To prepare a site with cultivation, soil disturbance must be repeated and continue until the end of the growing season.

Mechanical cultivation is usually accomplished with a tractor and a disc. Shallow discing should be timed to eliminate freshly germinated weed seedlings; once your site greens up after cultivation, disc again. Some sites may require 2 years of cultivation, particularly those with invasive or perennial weeds.


We at Prairie Moon are proud of our organic farming legacy, but we also view the responsible and judicious use of herbicides as an effective tool for native ecosystem establishment. Always read labels on herbicide products and use caution when working with these chemicals.

Herbicide is most effective over a full growing season. Depending on the weed problem on your site, short-term herbicide use as the only form of site prep can yield less-desirable results.

Site preparation is the first step in a multi-step process. Establishing a successful native prairie from seed is a labor of love and patience. Most who have been through it will praise the process, the thrill of discovery, and the joy of transforming a space into a healthy ecosystem. For more details on the next steps check out Growing Your Prairie


The first growing season should be dedicated to site preparation, a crucial first step to a successful planting. On this site, herbicide was applied three times spring through fall. After site preparation is complete, seed can be sown.


Keeping the site mowed to 4-8” during the first year of growth will control any remaining weeds, allow sunlight to reach the slow-growing perennials and promote strong root growth.


The season after planting there will only be a few native species that flower. This stage is known as the Pioneer Flush. It can take 3-5 years after planting for most perennials to bloom for the first time.


As time goes on, more and more perennial wildflowers will start to bloom.



We will donate 5% of profits for your online purchases now through Earth Day. Your support will help with expansion and enhancements to this non-profit website.

The mission of Minnesota Wildflowers is to educate Minnesotans on our native plants, raise awareness on threats like invasive species, and inspire people to explore our great state, appreciate its natural heritage, and become involved in preserving it.

Over 1,700 plant species and more than 16,000 high quality photos are cataloged here, with more added each week, working towards recording all 2200+ plant species in Minnesota and then branching into neighboring states, becoming a complete reference for the entire Upper Midwest.

The Minnesota Wildflowers website began as a private endeavor by Katy in 2006, in response to the poor resources available to the general public learning about plants growing wild in Minnesota.  In 2009, Peter joined as a collaborator, contributing his private collection of approximately 40,000 plant images and the two have been managing the web site together ever since.

Your unwavering support of native plants allows us to donate to
worthwhile environmental groups every year; your online purchase makes a difference!
As a business located in a small Minnesota community, as advocates for ecological integrity, and as promoters of environmental education, we are proud to support MinnesotaWildflowers.info for Earth Day 2020.


For all you seed savers out there, we have thousands of misprinted empty packets and are offering them in bundles of 50, FREE with any online order now through Earth Day.
Packets are 4.75″ x 3.25″ with seal tape. Limit 4 bundles (200 qty) per customer. U.S. customers only. Must accompany a paid product from our website.

May 6th UPDATE: We are thrilled to announce that $1,219.75 was the result! Your support will help with expansion and enhancements to this non-profit website.

Covid-19 Update – We Are Still Shipping Orders

COVID-19 UPDATE – We Are Still Shipping Orders

Published 3/20/20.  Updated 3/26/20.

To Our Customers & Friends,

We are grateful and inspired to hear from so many of you how gardening brings you peace during this time of social distancing and uncertainty.

We would like to address a few potential questions about your native plant order and the well-being of Prairie Moon Nursery.

Like many of you are experiencing, our workday here at Prairie Moon has changed and continues to change daily. Let us first emphasize that the health and safety of our staff, families, and community is at the forefront of the decisions we are making in this unprecedented time. We are diligently following science-based recommendations and the guidance of public health officials. During the coronavirus pandemic, our goal is to continue operations to the fullest extent possible given the current circumstances. Some employees are working remotely. We don’t anticipate any disruption in answering your phone calls or emails during this time, but many of us live in rural locations with slow internet. As we navigate our new remote work applications, we ask for your patience. For our employees that are continuing to come out to the Nursery, we are practicing social distancing, adjusting work schedules to minimize contact across teams, and sanitizing our workspaces daily.

Now, to a few potential questions:

Are you still open during Minnesota’s “Stay-at-Home” order?
Yes. Prairie Moon will continue to operate as an essential agricultural business (Category 1114: Greenhouse, Nursery, and Floriculture Production). Orders can be placed online, over-the-phone, or through the mail.

I have an open order.  Will it still be sent?
Yes. We expect to begin shipping plants on schedule this spring. Our bare root plants will ship, by order date, beginning mid-April. Potted plants will begin late-April based on both order date and plant readiness. We have been sending email reminders with shipping windows this winter; those shipping estimates remain accurate. If our plant shipping departments are compromised by illness or we foresee a delay in your order, we will reach out to you immediately.

I’m considering placing an order.  Are there any changes I should be aware of?
No. As is normal for this time of year, some of our most popular plants are beginning to sell out. Our website has the most updated availability for seed, plants, and tools and we’re ready for your order.

My Earth Day, Arbor Day, school, park district, or community event has been cancelled. Can I return or cancel my order?
Yes. We understand these are unusual circumstances and we are making exceptions to our normal cancellation & return policy. Please contact us right away to let us know about your specific situation by calling 866-417-8156, or email info@prairiemoon.com

I live near Prairie Moon and would like to pick up an order. Should I change my plans?
As a reminder, we are not a retail garden center; we are a mail-order nursery. To save shipping costs, local customers have been able to pick up orders in the past. At this time, we would prefer to ship your order to minimize the number of people coming to the Nursery. If you have already arranged a plant pick up, we will contact you.

I’ve signed up for one of your summer tours. Are they still on?
We feel it’s too early to make the call yet for our June, July, and August tours, but please visit our website for updates as the tours draw near.  If you have already signed up for a tour, we will be in touch with any changes.

We are grateful for your ongoing support and
commitment to the environment.

We believe nature provides solace and peace even in the most
challenging times, and we hope you find
sanctuary in the outdoors this spring.

April Bare Roots – It’s Not Too Early to Plant!

April Is Not Too Early to Plant Dormant Bare Roots!

You read it right! Spring dormant bare root plants should be planted as soon as possible – if the ground is not frozen, but the snow is flying, that is a fine time to get them in the ground!

In April as we alert customers that their pre-order of dormant roots are shipping soon, we often get requests to delay shipment because weather has dipped below freezing again, or spring snow flurries are in the forecast. We urge customers to accept bare roots shipped in April.

Unlike greenhouse-grown potted plants, bare root plants can and should be planted during cold, spring weather. These plants are dormant. As soon as the ground thaws in our outdoor garden beds here in Southeast Minnesota (usually late-March) we dig them and store them in a walk-in cooler to keep them dormant. True, it’s not fun to be gardening in cold conditions, but as long as the ground has thawed and you can dig a hole, that is when you should install dormant roots. They will emerge, on schedule, in their new home when soils warm up and thus experience less transplant-shock than if they went from our 35 degree cooler into your warm May or June weather.

If your newly-planted roots emerge, and then a cold spell of below-freezing nights and/or snow happens, native plants are well-suited for those normal spring conditions and should not experience any noticeable hardships. Remember, our bare roots are grown outside in Minnesota, so they are used to being cold in April.

If you ordered later in the season and we had to ship your plants in May, they may have some new growth, which will straighten out as the plant matures. Our bare-root plants will arrive with a root planting depth photo printed on the bag label. These photos illustrate the optimal depth and orientation for planting your roots, and can also be found at prairiemoon.com on each species page.

If you are unable to plant right away, store your roots in the refrigerator (34-38° F). It is important to keep your plants cool and slightly moist (not wet) like the peat moss they arrived in.

What’s the buzz at the neighbor’s house? The first years of a new prairie

Justin and Liz Carroll live in a historic 1880 rural farmhouse on nearly 3 acres of land. The young couple moved to Southeast Minnesota from the Minneapolis area with a desire to live out the pastoral dream; kids running around the yard, a garden full of fresh produce, a flock of chickens, a big red barn, and miles of world-class trout streams to fish.

In 2017 the Carrolls decided to establish a native seed mix on 3/4 acre of their property. Their motivation was rooted in practicality. “We’re a young couple just starting our family with a big rural property to manage. Mowing a large lawn every weekend is not how we want to spend our time,” Liz explained. Less time mowing means more time making memories with their young daughter, Juniper, and newborn baby Jocelyn.

The Carroll’s experience is like many of those embarking on a prairie project for the first time. The first few years were met with a bit of skepticism from family, neighbors, and even from Liz. “I would look out to the planting that first year and I just couldn’t see what he saw.”

With Justin’s vision, the project moved forward. However, Liz’s concerns are common in the early years of many prairie reconstruction projects.

Establishing a native seed mix is typically a 3-5 year process. During the first year, site preparation must be done. The goal is to remove as much vegetation as possible and reduce the weed seed bank that inevitably exists in the soil. This will reduce competition for slow-growing perennials. Our recommendation is for site preparation to last the entire spring, summer, and fall. Prepare your site by smothering with plastic or cardboard, repeated shallow tiling, or herbicide application. That first year, it’s not a pretty sight.



Remove existing vegetation by smothering, repeated shallow tilling, or herbicide application. For more information on these site prep methods, see our site-prep guide.



Sow seed any time from October through February so dormant seeds can stratify and germinate in the spring. Spring plantings (March-June) are an acceptable second choice, but many wild flowers may not germinate until they can overwinter.

The second year isn’t much better. Although young perennials will be growing and the site will green up, there will inevitably be many weed seeds that will germinate along with the native plants. To prevent these annual weeds from growing up rapidly, stealing sunlight and nutrients from slow-growing perennials, the entire area must be kept mowed. As soon as vegetation reaches 8-10” tall, mow at a setting of approximately 5” as often as the growth dictates to help knock back weeds and woody vegetation.


Keep the site mowed the entire first growing season after planting.


As the saying goes, first a prairie SLEEPS, then a prairie CREEPS, and finally the prairie LEAPS!

We had the pleasure of visiting the Carrolls during year 3 of their project, the year when the wildflowers start to bloom. Even though Justin did good site prep, winter seed sowing, frequent mowing, and even a prescribed burn, there are still some species that he needed to manage. He found Giant Ragweed and Canada Goldenrod creeping in among the Purple Coneflower, Canada Wild Rye, and Showy Sunflowers.

“One thing I learned throughout this experience is to not underestimate the weed seed bank,” Justin said. We couldn’t agree more. Even in situations where the homeowner does everything right, weed pressure will be dependent upon the context of the property in question. There can be years’ worth of dormant weed seed in your soil that can appear in year 2.

To manage the Giant Ragweed, an annual plant, we advised Justin to cut them down mid-summer when they are very tall but before they flower and set seed. “At first I was out there cutting every plant off at waist height with a scissors. Little did I know they would just bloom again, but shorter,” Justin said. That’s when he decided to use a weed trimmer to cut the plants off at the base.
This strategy works well with annual plants like Giant Ragweed, but would not be effective against perennial, rhizomatous plants like Canada Goldenrod. Although Canada Goldenrod is native to North America, it is very aggressive and can easily dominate young plantings. Responsible spot treatments with herbicide can go a long way in preventing Canada Goldenrod or other perennial rhizomatous plants from taking hold. We would not advise pulling weeds in a young prairie. Pulling weeds can disturb the root systems of desirable plants working to establish themselves.

Justin plans to continue his prairie management by removing weeds and doing seasonal burns with his friends in the volunteer fire department.


Monitor your site for problematic species. Burning and mowing can help knock back weeds and woody vegetation.


Now after a few years of site observation and experience, he plans to diversify his prairie with enhancement seed mixes (link), one for the roadside and one for the tree line.

Over the past few years, Justin has reached out to us at Prairie Moon for advice. “It’s these interactions that have been super encouraging. You took your time, without question, and helped guide me. It has encouraged me to be a better prairie manager. We’ve lived in the country for almost 10 years now, and I’ve never seen as much wildlife out here as I do now that we’ve planted the prairie. We regularly see hummingbirds and butterflies. I’m hoping this is just the start.”

Establishing a successful native prairie planting from seed is a labor of love and patience. Most who have been through it will praise the process, the thrill of discovery, and the absolute joy in transforming a space into a healthy ecosystem.


Just like the Carrolls, you too can be a part of the movement to nurture and sustain the living landscape. Whether it’s a few square feet or several acres, you can make a difference. 


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