Answer: The native prairie included a wide variety of grasses and broadleaved plants that adapted over the centuries into a specific ecosystem. Recreating such an ecosystem will require learning what is known about prairies that were native to your place. Using plants or seeds from as near your area as is possible is strongly advised.
Fortunately, there is considerable interest and information about prairie restoration in Wisconsin. I’ve listed several Web sites below that should be useful. The first is on the University of Wisconsin’s site and includes many other resources and books. One that is highly recommended is Shirley’s Restoring the Tallgrass Prairie: An Illustrated Manual for Iowa and the Upper Midwest, available from amazon.com and other booksellers or your library. Other books on prairie reconstruction or restoration are also available. A 52-page Minnesota manual, Going Native: A prairie restoration handbook for Minnesota landowners, is available free if you will call 888-646-6367 and request it. Also see the book list on the UW Web site. Lists of Wisconsin prairie plants are included.
Curtis Prairie is the world’s oldest known prairie restoration (1941) and is located at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s arboretum. There are other restored prairies as well as remnants of original prairie throughout the upper Midwest. You might want to visit several before you begin your project. Other Midwestern prairie preserves are listed in an article from the National Wildflower Research Center.
Several other articles can help give you an initial idea of what is involved in restoring and maintaining prairies. Typically, grazing and controlled burns are tools used to maintain the native ecosystem and reduce the invasion of trees and tame grasses or other weeds.
You expressed interest in eventually harvesting hay from your restored prairie. Two articles, one from Missouri and the other from Kansas State University, deal with haying natives. As the Missouri publication notes, fertilizer is needed to replace the nutrients that are removed with the hay. However, since the prairie evolved as a low fertility system, timing is critical so that you don’t encourage the invasion of undesirable species. Carefully consider whether haying your prairie is economically advantageous.
See the farmer’s comments in the article, "Grazing for Prairie Restoration Seminar." After the author notes that none of the attendees harvested their own hay because of the expense of maintaining haying equipment, one farmer said, "…it was the most devastating thing I ever did to wildlife." Other articles offer practical suggestions about how to reduce the negative impact of haying on wildlife, focusing on timing to avoid interfering with ground-nesting bird populations and resting paddocks each year so that all wildlife will not be wiped out in any one year.
Anon. N. d. Managing Missouri’s Hay Prairies. Missouri Department of Conservation. 4 p.
Anon. N. d. Recreating a prairie. National Wildflower Research Center, Austin, TX. 5 p.
Clubine, Steve. 2001. Grazing for prairie restoration seminar. Native Warm-Season Grass Newsletter. Winter. p. 2–3.
Clubine, Steve. 2002. [No title]. Native Warm-Season Grass Newsletter. Fall. p. 2–4.
Henrichs, Lisa. 1999. Grazing as a technique for prairie restoration. University of Minnesota.
www.hort.agri.umn.edu/h5015/97papers/henrichs.html. 6 p.
Schneider, Colleen. 1998. Establishing prairie. Wallaces Farmer. April. p. 10-11.
Schramm, Peter. N.d. A practical restoration method for tall-grass prairie. Source unknown. p. 63–64.
Towne, Gene and Paul D. Ohlenbusch. 1992. Native Hay Meadow Management. Cooperative Extension Service. Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS. 2 p.
Prairie Restoration Web sites:
University of Wisconsin resources
A prairie organization
A Minnesota seed source
Describing various kinds of native prairie
Native plant nurseries and restoration consultants in Wisconsin
Ecological Restoration periodical site
A Wisconsin prairie restored
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