Planting native prairies can help restore the ecosystem on your commercial property and essentially “give back” to the land in a number of ways. You’ll protect the biodiversity of plant species, which means breaking the ecological monotony that turf introduces. And, native prairies help restore soil quality, translating into benefits such as controlling rainwater runoff. Not to mention, native prairies in the landscape act as a sound barrier, useful for Chicago properties where you hear traffic, not wildlife and birds.
You recognize that planting prairies is a positive, but where do you start? There are thousands of species, and some can actually be quite aggressive. Others take longer to establish. What types of prairie plants are best for your Illinois landscape?
Here, we take some of the guesswork out of the prairie plant selection process by suggesting five prairie plants that can be planted together to create a balanced, bio-diverse, interesting landscape.
Following is a prairie plant cheat sheet with some notes on why we love the way these lovely natives grow.
#1 Aromatic Aster
Staggering bloom times in a prairie setting will provide continuous visual interest. When one variety passes its prime, another will blossom. Aromatic Aster is a late-fall bloomer, flowering in August in September. The plant has stiff, branching stems that create a bush-like appearance. It explodes with blue-purple flowers that turn reddish purple. The color adds an appealing contrast when mixed with prairie grasses, and the low-growing profile keeps the property looking natural yet under control.
#2 Prairie Blazing Star
A variety of plant sizes in a prairie landscape creates textural appeal. It’s like having risers on the property, with some plants popping up to grab your attention and others drawing the eye down so there’s motion in the landscape. The combination of short and tall plants adds important aesthetic value. It just keeps things interesting. We love Prairie Blazing Star because of its hardy stature—and it’s a conspicuous prairie plant. The native herb grows from a tuber and reaches 2 to 4 inches in height, blooming in July through September. The top of the plant has rosy purple, spikey flowers that have a fuzzy appearance because of extended white stamens. The combination of flower and stalk make this plant a beautiful pick for your Illinois prairie-scape.
The vibrant orange flowers on this low-profile mounding plant are long-lasting and attract butterflies (of course), making this famous milkweed plant a prairie favorite. The plant grows 2 to 3 feet tall, and blooms June through September. Rugged Butterflyweed will survive in a range of soil types. We love how this plant is a versatile, showy addition to a prairie landscape.
#4 Little Bluestem
You may also know this plant as prairie beardgrass or small feathergrass—fitting nicknames for the low-growing, coarse prairie grass that flaunts fluffy plumes once seed matures. It reddish tint offers winter color, filling in after fall bloomers are finished. There are a number of different cultivars of Little Bluestem available, giving you options based on your growing habitat. This prairie plant plays well with others, mixing nicely with varieties like purple coneflower and the other selections highlighted here.
#5 Prairie Dropseed
The fountains of fine-textured, green leaves that Prairie Dropseed produce create a textured backdrop in a native prairie landscape. This plant grows in clumps that are 2 to 3 feet tall, including the flowery stems, and it blooms July through August. Prairie Dropseed tolerates a range of soil moisture levels, making it versatile and hardy. Another bonus is that Prairie Dropseed is a manageable variety—some prairie plants can reseed quickly and grow rather aggressively. Prairie Dropseed can function as a border when planted 18 to 24 inches apart. It adds emerald green character when dispersed throughout a prairie landscape.
Pick A Balanced Prairie Pallet
With these five prairie plants that thrive in an Illinois landscape, you can establish a diverse, interesting and beneficial ecosystem on your Chicago property. Let’s talk more about native prairies and the supportive environmental role these plants play in restoring our ecosystem.
Call Bluestem any time at 815.568.2927.