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Prairie Management

Burning is one of the more important management practices for native plantings.

Most native plantings need to be burned annually for up to five consecutive years, beginning in year two, to become well established. Burning yields better growth and more flowers. Mature prairies with no weed problems may need burning only once every three years. Dry sites may only need to burn every 5-6 years

When a large planting reaches six years, it can be divided into three sections with mowed paths between them. Burn a different section each year, thereby protecting over-wintering butterflies and other insects. If a planting is not periodically burned, a thatch layer can build up over the years, causing some native species to grow poorly or even to die out completely.

Burning will stimulate growth of native plants and give them a competitive edge over some weeds. Always use caution and common-sense when burning. Follow local fire regulations, obtain permits and have plenty of tools and help on hand. For more detailed information, we recommend doing an online search for “how to do small prescribed burns”. Different states have their own policies and suggestions, plus there are a number of great videos online.

An alternative to burning
If burning is not permitted at your site or if you prefer not to use this method, you can mow or manually remove thatch in early spring (late February to mid-April). Last year’s dead stems will not hide the new growth and flowers, and the sun’s rays still will be able to warm the soil.

40 Years of Learning Through Growing

Four decades ago, Alan Wade and several of his friends began Prairie Moon Nursery selling seeds out of his living room. They were following in the footsteps of Alan’s parents, Doug and Dot Wade, who started one of the first North American native plant nurseries in the 1970s. We continue to grow the ecotypes first collected by the Wades along with a wide range of ecotypes from across the Midwest. 

We are inspired and energized by our daily contact with so many who share our passion for ecological preservation and restoration. We’re all learning how to better assist nature through our experiments, from tiny backyard plantings to multi-acre projects. 

Thank you for joining us these past 40 years in learning through growing.

OUR MENTORS:
Dot Wade and her husband Doug, a student of Aldo Leopold, started one of the first true wildflower nurseries, Windrift Prairie Shop and Nursery.

doug wade

A SIMPLE START:
In 1982, with encouragement from his parents, Alan Wade began shipping seed with neighbors Vic, Tony, and Yarrow from his small house.

CATALOGS:
The first catalog was a trifold pamphlet that sold for 50¢ in the early 80s. By the early 90s, we had nearly 250 natives to list, graduating to a traditional catalog experience for the reader.

HUMBLE EXPANSION:
A 2 room building was proudly built in 1987.
The upstairs was a bookkeeping office,
and downstairs was a small warehouse.
Plumbing was a luxury, so we relied on an outhouse.

doug wade

JOINING THE WEB:
We moved to computerized software in 1997 and launched our first website in 2003. This added efficiency and greatly expanded our customer reach.

doug wade

PRAIRIE LANE EST:
Construction began in 2007
on new land just 1 mile away.
This consolidated operations
under one 10,000 sq ft building,
with room to grow, or so we thought!

doug wade

STILL GROWING:
In 2015, a greenhouse was added
to meet increasing plant demand.
By 2018, we tripled the greenhouse size.
Coming in 2022-23: a modernized seed processing
building and office expansion.

doug wade

The Circle of Life

THE FOUNDATION OF OUR ECOSYSTEM IS ROOTED IN NATIVE PLANTS.
BEE SUSTAINABLE. PLANT NATIVES.

Native plants have co-evolved with native insects and wildlife; they are deeply dependent on one another. Plants provide food and shelter to insects, birds and other small animals, which, in turn support larger predators. Native plants are fundamental stepping stones of a healthy ecosystem.

Introducing native plants to your garden or land can bring many seasons of delight and discovery. Their many merits, though, exceed their virtues of beauty, resilience and appeal to birds and pollinators.

Clean Water: Because of the deep root system of most native plants, they act both as a sponge and filter. They help water soak down into the soil and filter out excess nutrients and pollutants, improving water quality.

Ecosystem Restoration:
Tallgrass prairies are North America’s most threatened major ecosystem, with about 99% plowed up or paved over since the 1830s. By planting native species, you are restoring ecosystems and preserving countless species that might otherwise be lost forever.

Clean Air:
Like forests, prairies and meadows sequester pollutants and carbon from the atmosphere. Even small plantings can help filter the air around your home, and large plantings can help to mitigate climate change.

Resource Conservation:
Once established, native plants can save you time and money because they require little or no irrigation, fertilizer, pruning or mowing.

Invasive Species:
Outside of their native environments, some plants will aggressively out-compete others because they lack natural checks and balances like pests and predators. Some of our worst non-native invaders – Buckthorn, Honey-suckle, Dame’s Rocket, and Garlic Mustard – were first planted in gardens. By choosing natives, you can help prevent further habitat loss.

Healthy Soil:
The dance between native plants and animals created some of the most fertile soil on Earth, making the American Midwest the “Breadbasket to the World.” Native plants prevent soil erosion, create top soil and build fertility.

NATIVE FLORA BENEFITS NATIVE FAUNA

Rusty Patched Bumblebee (Bombus affinis): The Rusty Patched Bumblebee is a federally-endangered species. This insect is one of the many on the brink of extinction. Worldwide, it is estimated we have lost 45% of invertebrates over the past 40 years.

American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis): About 95% of all terrestrial birds feed their young insects. American Goldfinch babies eat many caterpillars before they leave the nest. Seeds are another important component of a bird’s diet. More than 300 trees, shrubs, and vines in North America have small fruits that depend on birds for seed dispersal.

Thirteen-lined ground Squirrel (Ictidomys tridecemlineatus): Prey animals like birds, small mammals, reptiles, and amphibians rely on insects and native plants as an important part of their diet. To protect themselves against predators, prey have developed a number of defense mechanisms. The unique markings on the Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel help to keep it camouflaged, hidden in its environment.

American Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes fulvus): Predators, like this American Red Fox, are an essential part of our ecosystem because they eat other animals, which sends a ripple effect through the food web called a “trophic cascade”. Because they eat other animals predators affect the populations of prey animals, which in turn affects plant populations.

American Carrion Beetle (Necrophila americana): Essential nutrient cycling is expected by fungus and scavenging insects like carrion beetles.

A few square feet or several acres, we can all make a difference…
Hope grows in every backyard.

Are You Mowing Your 1st Year Prairie?

Did you plant a native seed mix recently? MAKE SURE YOU MOW THIS SPRING!
Mowing your newly-planted site the first growing season is referred to as maintenance mowing. Right now you probably see a lot of weeds, some juvenile prairie grasses, and wildflower seedlings. Some native annuals from your seed mix, like Black-eyed Susan, may be about to bloom, but don’t be swayed, it’s time to mow!

Regular summer mowing will prevent quick-growing weeds from shading new native seedlings and dropping additional seeds on the site. Mowing will not harm new native plants!

If your first-year planting looks like this, mowing is overdue! You may be encouraged by the Black-eyed Susan or Daisy Fleabane and not want to mow, but also pictured, Canada Goldenrod and Queen Anne’s Lace, are weeds and need to be mowed, along with the native “pioneer species”, to allow light in.

If your planting still looks like a lot of bare dirt and nothing to mow, fear not! That just means you don’t have many weeds to contend with. First-year planting often look like this in early June. You will start to see more growth throughout the summer.


Set your mower to a high setting; 4-6″ on most mowers. Mow as frequently as your site demands; usually that is when growth reaches 8-10 inches or weeds want to flower.


Here is a 1st year planting next to a 3rd year prairie. We practiced maintenance mowing multiple times during the spring-summer to allow light to infiltrate and to prevent weeds from going to seed. Mowing will not harm young native plants. You can usually stop mowing at the end of the first season. If weeds are thick in the beginning of the second season, mow or spot-mow once or twice.


Hand-held string trimmers are ideal for small areas or steep slopes.

CHANGE STARTS IN YOUR BACKYARD: The Pleasant Valley Pollinator Corridor Story

With cooperation from grassroots activists, non-profit organizations, stage agencies, the University of Minnesota, and the legislature, a first-of-its kind grant program was created to incentivize habitat restoration in residential areas. The newly created “Lawns to Legumes” program set aside approximately $900,000 from the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund to assist homeowners in the effort to install trees, wildflowers, and other native plantings on their properties. 

The goal of the program is to protect at-risk pollinators including the Minnesota State Bee, the federally endangered Rusty Patched Bumble Bee. A once common species, the population of the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee has declined by nearly 90% in the last 20 years. It is likely to only be present in 0.1% of its native range at risk of extinction. This species faces the same threats that many other pollinators and wildlife face, including habitat loss, disease, pesticide use, and climate change.


Pleasant Valley in Winona, Minnesota was selected as a Demonstration Neighborhood in the Lawns to Legumes program. Lawns to Legumes Demonstration Neighborhoods establish community projects on residential properties intended to enhance pollinator habitat in key corridors, raise awareness for residential pollinator protection, and showcase best practices. A select group of homeowners will have 90% of their native plant project paid for with the grant – whether they are planting a single tree or restoring a large prairie. There is no minimum size requirement to participate in the program because even relatively small plantings of native flowers and grasses can help pollinators by building and connecting important habitat corridors. 

The Pleasant Valley Pollinator Corridor connects the City of Winona to the forested bluff lands in the Pleasant Valley Watershed. This neighborhood is located in a biodiversity hotspot known as “The Driftless Region” which encompasses parts of SE Minnesota, SW Wisconsin, NE Iowa, and NW Illinois. This region contains the highest number of different plants and animal species in the Upper Midwest, as well as the highest percentage of species that are threatened or endangered in the Upper Midwest. 

A team of dedicated locals has helped implement the program in Winona with the non-profit Healthy Lake Winona. These folks have been working throughout the pandemic to connect interested people with grant funds, and educate them about plant selection, installation, and maintenance. This group has also created partnerships with 9 other supporters, including the Winona County Soil and Water Conservation District, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Prairie Moon Nursery. By participating in the grant programs, residents will help pollinators, create habitat, make connections, build community, and inspire change. 

“If half of American lawns were replaced with native plants, we would create the equivalent of a 20 million acre national park, nine times bigger than Yellowstone or 100 times bigger than Shenandoah
National Park.”

– Doug Tallamy
 

The Minnesota Lawns to Legumes program is an inspirational model of bringing habitat restoration to residential areas. Together, we can create more programs like this across America, encouraging and incentivizing habitat restoration in neighborhood HOAs, local zoning ordinances, and grant programs. 

As we understand more about our ecological interconnectedness, we have an opportunity to make choices that heal and regenerate the land. Each and every one of us has an important role to play in stewarding this land, and it starts right in your own backyard.

EARTH DAY 2021: WE ARE PROUD TO SUPPORT IN DEFENSE OF PLANTS

GIVE & GET WITH EVERY EARTH DAY ORDER
Now through April 22

• Order online and we give toward a WORTHY CAUSE • Get a FREE STICKER with every order • Get $5.00 OFF your order – use code: BUZZ at checkout •

     Your unwavering support of native plants allows us to donate to worthwhile environmental groups every year; your online purchase makes a difference.

ABOUT IN DEFENSE OF PLANTS:
From the smallest duckweed to the tallest redwood, the botanical world is full of amazing stories and In Defense of Plants is here to tell them with engaging blogs and podcasts.

Each week, author and host Matt, sits down with experts in plant biology, ecology, evolution, and conservation for discussions about the amazing world of plants. Whether the topic is the ecological importance of oak trees or the role of horticulture in saving plants from extinction, In Defense of Plants explores the botanical world to help cure “plant blindness,” the under-appreciation of the flora all around us.

SUBSCRIBE TO IN DEFENSE OF PLANTS PODCAST AT APPLE PODCAST OR WHEREVER YOU GET YOUR PODCASTS.

This Earth Day we are proud to support In Defense of Plants If you love plants as much as we do, we know you’ll love the podcast and blog! 

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?
SEED:
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.



PRAIRIE MOON SHIPPING FEES

Seed Orders Under $100$5.00
Seed Orders Over $100FREE!
Plant Orders Under $50$9.00
Plant Orders Over $5018%
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.


MATCH THE GERMINATION CODE(S) ON YOUR SEED PACKAGE
TO THESE INSTRUCTIONS
:


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 fine 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 out 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.

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