Contact Us Host an Event Volunteer Join

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

 
rate this answer
3 ratings

Wednesday - September 15, 2010

From: Arlington, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Meadow Gardens, Compost and Mulch, Planting, Seeds and Seeding, Turf, Wildflowers
Title: How to make a lawn into a prairie in Arlington, Texas
Answered by: Marilyn Kircus

QUESTION:

I am removing lawn grasses in order to start a native prairie meadow. After grass removal, I'll put down 1/2" of compost. I will broadcast wildflower seeds on the compost. If I mulch after broadcasting, will that inhibit germination and growth?

ANSWER:

Native grasses and flowers need light to germinate.  They will do best if you remove your grass, then water the ground well and let whatever wants to sprout, sprout.  Then lightly hoe – right at the ground line or till VERY lightly (1"), so you don’t bring more dormant seeds to the surface. You may need little or no compost.  Work it in lightly so the seeds won’t be in straight compost. Rake very lightly after seeding. You should still be able to see some seeds. Do not add mulch.  It will block the light and hold too much water around the plants.

Native American Seed has an article on how to prepare your soil. If you can do it, they suggest setting your lawn mower so low that it will scrape the soil.  I cleared a little bed for just wildflowers in the midst of a grassy field by using a string trimmer the same way.  I ended with bare soil and then raked it, added the seeds, lightly raked, and lightly watered in.  I also keep the area moist between rains until the flowers had sprouted. But getting the area completely clear of vegetation is key to success

Aggie Horticulture has an excellent article with pictures on how to prepare your soil. I’m not sure what kind of soil you have, but suspect it is clay.  Instead of compost, or in addition to very little compost, you might want to add decomposed granite (which is recommended for the Central Texas clay soils) or consult a nursery on a soil  amendment to make your soil drain better.  But if you already know your soil is draining well, you may only need to prepare the soil and add no amendments. Wildflowers and grasses  are designed to grow in fairly dry places in bright sun.

And one little tip not covered by your question. Mix your seed with damp soil and then broadcast it to get a more even coverage.  Lightly rake the seeds in. Some seed should still be visible. Water the seeds in very carefully so you don't wash the seeds out of some locations and pile them up in other places. Water whenever the soil is dry  between rains. 

I’m not sure if you plan to plant a meadow or a wildflower garden. A meadow is a mix of grasses and wildflowers. Having grass as part of your mix will help keep the weeds from sprouting in your garden and give wonderful movement. But  you only need  to change your mix to one of both grasses and flowers to get the prairie.  Preparation of the soil is the same.  Nativie American Seed has a seed mix for a pocket prairie.

If you are interested in learning more about growing prairies, you might visit the Native Prairies of Texas Association’s web page.  In the section “Manage”, you will find information on preparing and maintaining a little prairie.

For further reading you may like to check out the following:

Making a Prairie Garden. This is information for Ohio but the preparation would be the same.

Designing and Planting Your Native Garden by Neil Diboll

 Native Texas Plants: Landscaping Region by Region by Sally and Andy Wasowski.  I don’t currently have access to this book but think she has a chapter on gardening with Native Grasses. Your local library should have it or be able to get it for you.

Prairie-Style Gardens: Capturing the Essence of the American Prairie Wherever You Live by Lynn Steiner. This is a new book but the review I read made me want to own it.  

 

More Wildflowers Questions

Latest time to mow bluebonnets from Chappell Hill TX
February 13, 2014 - The past few years, my bluebonnets have been overwhelmed by tall grass. I could have solved this by mowing later, but I was always afraid of mowing new bluebonnet plants. When is the latest time I can...
view the full question and answer

Shearing Pink Skullcaps
September 21, 2014 - My pink skullcap plants keep dying. The ones that are still alive are about 3 years old, but have large sections of dry twigs. Do I shear them and hope they come back or are they gone? I live in Helot...
view the full question and answer

Meadow garden for Colorado Springs CO
June 03, 2012 - We recently purchased a restored home on a mesa just above the downtown area of Colorado Springs on the front range. The previous owners seeded the front lawn with blue gramma and told me that all I ...
view the full question and answer

Are Brown-eyed susans and Black-eyed susans the same species?
December 02, 2014 - Are Brown eyed Susans the same as the Black-eyed Susan? I've read that they are both common names for the same plant, but the flower looks slightly different in different regions. Thank you.
view the full question and answer

Mowing Bluebonnets
March 20, 2004 - When is it safe to mow Bluebonnets?
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.