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November Article
The Four Seasons of a Backyard Prairie

Midwest prairies are incredibly dynamic ecosystems; home to thousands of different insect, plant, and animal  species. Prairies add depth and character as well as functional benefits to our landscapes. Prairie grassland habitats once spread over a good portion of Minnesota, but due to agriculture and development, are now at about 1% of their historic size.  Fortunately, we are seeing more and more efforts in our state to restore and preserve large prairie parcels. In addition, we are also witnessing Twin Cities landowners taking charge and introducing prairie patches on their properties. Every prairie patch and native garden certainly helps. Below is a brief chronology of a metro area prairie patch that we manage:

Spring:  The warm spring sun works to melt the winter's  snow and spring flowers finally start to emerge. In May, last year's vegetation is mowed down, but is left as natural mulch and a source of food and cover for wildlife. A quick survey might reveal invasive species like thistle, reed canary grass, and wormwood that will be controlled. Bees and butterflies hibernating in the pithy prairie plant stems and duff layer will need early bloomers for food. Species like golden Alexander, prairie smoke, columbine and 
spiderwort are some of the first blooms that we notice each spring. The cool season grasses like junegrass put on a show while the warm season grasses wait for warmer summer days. Bluebirds start gathering materials from the prairie to form their nests in boxes surrounding the restoration. Dragonflies start emerging from the nearby pond. It looks like it's going to be a beautiful year on the prairie!

Summer: The natural area is alive with color and frantic activity, with the noise of thousands of insects creating a collective audible hum and buzz on the prairie. The warm season grasses have sprung up several feet and their interesting seed heads are blowing in the balmy summer breeze. Their root systems go deep, several yards into  the soil and are important at capturing and storing carbon. They also hold the soil together on slopes and help prevent erosion. Their deep roots also provide pathways for water to infiltrate far into the soil, instead of running off the land and into stormwater gutters.

The audible buzz is mostly coming from a vast array of native bee species that vary in sizes, shapes, and colors. 
With some specializing in specific plant species, it's a good thing there are so many different flowers found on this prairie. Diversity is key, allowing each of these specialists to find their niche flowers. Large and intimidating wasps and hornets also fly among the flowers, but they never sting us and are only interested in
 gathering food for their nests. Maintenance crews have to walk carefully while hand-weeding and weed whipping because of all the garden spiders spinning elaborate orb webs, capturing mosquitoes, flies and other pests in their strong nets.
Ground nesting birds are also hidden beneath the native plants, so being careful not to step on their eggs and chicks is critical!

Fall: Many plant species are starting to transition from green and b lue to rich hues of red, orange, tan, and copper. The grasses are putting on the show now, rich shades of color blowing in a cooler wind. Fall is here and the summer buzzing has been replaced with the gentle chirping of migrating songbirds, feasting on the fall bounty of native flower seeds. Gray-headed coneflower, black-eyed Susan, oxeye, bergamot, and many others provide a critical food source for birds heading south.  Quickly fluttering from one plant to the next, seeds are eaten and dispersed by these hungry and energetic birds. Although maybe not as noisy, in autumn, there is still a lot of insect activity taking place. The last monarchs are emerging from their chrysalises and heading south, black and tan woolly bears are making their way to their winter hideaways, and the fall bees are busy collecting pollen and nectar from the  late blooming asters. New England aster, smooth blue aster, sky blue aster, aromatic aster, and heath aster are prime examples of important fall flower species that bloom into October. The last of the season's pollinator species depend on these plants. The chill is setting into the air as the days quickly shorten. What's next for the prairie?

Winter:  Winter arrives with a blanket of snow! Temperatures drop and it's noticeably quiet on the prairie compared to the summer symphony of flying insects. But there is still some activity underneath the snow covered grasses. Small mammals like mice and rabbit tunnel through the snow and find a winter haven in the Indian 
grass, big bluestem, and little bluestem that offers cover from the harsh winter elements and the eyes of overhead
 birds of prey. Without this cover they would be quick meals for the owls, hawks, and eagles that stay all winter long.  They also munch on  the native plant seeds, whatever was left behind by the migrating birds. Hoarfrost collects on the native plants stems and blades of grass, turning the landscape into a breathtakingly beautiful winter wonderland. Even in the winter the native plants are a source of eye-catching observations.

All of this activity and much, much more is available to landowners willing to establish a piece of the prairie. As a bonus, each year is a bit different and unique, compared to the last. Besides serving a functional purpose of having less grass to mow, prairies and natural areas offer an endless amount of beauty and entertainment.  The number of birds, animals, and insects that call prairie home is amazing and can quickly become a source of pride to the landowners.

If this sounds good to you, we can help you start your own backyard prairie or natural shore buffer. Natural Shore is proud to be a part of these restorations and the source of life they provide! Already have a prairie? Please share your observations with us and our Facebook community. We all have interesting stories to tell, and can certainly learn from one another!
Native Plant of the Month
Sky Blue Aster
Symphyotrichum oolentangiense

Moisture: Moist or Dry
Exposure: Full Sun or Partial Shade
Color: Blue
Blooms: August- October
Height: 2-3.5 Feet

Sky Blue aster is an autumn bloomer with many pale blue flowers.  This plant is rough to the touch (feels like sandpaper) due to short stiff hairs on the stem and leaves.  The basal leaves are stalked and heart-shaped with the middle and upper leaves more narrow and not heart-shaped.  Their flowers have specialized scale-like bracts beneath the flowers that are "diamond-tipped".  Found in a wide range of habitats from dry or moist prairies, meadows, open woods, to rocky slopes, this plant is very drought tolerant and is a larval plant for some butterfly larvae and nectar plant for butterflies.  Another common name is prairie heart-leaved.  
Invasive Plant of the Month
Cichorium intybus

Moisture: Dry
Exposure: Full Sun or Partial Shade
Color: Blue
Blooms: June-October
Height: 1-6 Feet

Chicory is a non-native perennial from Europe and Asia that is often found in disturbed soils like roadsides and fields. Their leaves look like dandelion leaves, clasp the stem, are dark green, and alternate. Their delicate flowers look like blue dandelions. They usually have 15-20 petals that make up the flower. Each petal ends with small teeth. Chicory might look inconspicuous at first but after a few seasons can spread quickly. Management strategies include hand pulling and mowing.  

Native plant alternatives include  sky blue or smooth blue aster!
Pollinator of the Month
Bee Flies
Bombylius spp.

Range: Throughout North America
Habitat : Meadows, fields, woodlands
Identification : They have a long tongue (proboscis), are small, and very hairy like a bumblebee. 
Pollination :  Bee flies visit a variety of native plants like anise hyssop, bergamot, hoary vervain, blue vervain, New England aster, and others. 

November 2018 Issue
Our Company
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Retail Nursery News
Our retail nursery is closed for the year. Thank you for another wonderful season!

Our retail nursery address is:
1480 County Rd. 90  Independence MN 55359

Have any questions? Contact our greenhouse manager Jill at

Click and visit our website for current
Minnnesota Native Plant Brand ensures that plant species are native to Minnesota. 
5 Plants For...
Fall Pollinators!
Plant these flowers to feed our pollinator friends in the fall!

1. Heath Aster
( Symphyotrichum ericoides)

2. Smooth Blue Aster
( Symphyotrichum laeve)

3. New England Aster
(Symphyotrichum novae-angliae)

4. Aromatic Aster
( Symphyotrichum oblongifolium)

5. Sneezeweed
( Helenium autumnale)

 Want to learn more about these native plants? Click Here to visit our website!

Mystery Plant of the Month!
Test your plant ID skills!

Here is another Minnesota native plant that blooms into the fall. Can you tell what species it is?
Need another clue?
Take a closer look, at its leaves!

Visit our Facebook page to see if you're right!
Happy Thanksgiving!
We are so thankful for  another successful season of incorporating native plants into our Minnesota landscape!

All of us at Natural Shore are also grateful to our clients who are  enthusiastic about native plants and providing habitat for pollinators and other wildlife. We hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving!