Hardy Prairie Plants, Tough Survivors


A Prairie Is The All American Garden

Some twenty years ago I moved to a very flat part of the state of Ohio. It interested me as a gardener to find out more about the original land, why it was so flat and treeless, and what sort of climate created it.

Turns out, this property was once part of the Tall Grass prairie.

A Bit Of Grassland History

The prairies originally stretched across a vast space in the midsection of the United States. And the plants we call “prairie plants” are usually native to America, rather than Asian or European imports. Although most of the prairie grasslands are gone, and are now the croplands of the American breadbasket, the blooming plants, and now some of the grasses are coveted and useful plants for our landscapes.

Especially as the style of a ‘New American’ garden has caught on in popularity, the usage of these plants has grown by leaps and bounds. We now see them included practically everywhere. Favorite now are Rudbeckias or Black-eyed Susans as they are commonly known, and the healing plant, Echinacea, or the Coneflower.

Some of these plants are no doubt very familiar, some might be new to you. Let’s take a tour through the profile of this grassland that covers so much of the United States and find out more about these flowering garden plants.

A prairie garden is a garden, first. It needs care, cultivating, and nurture to look its best.

Xeriscaping: Landscaping for Water Conservation

Prairie Plants Are Naturals

Shown in photo is a California garden with Evening primroses (Oenothera fruticosa) and grasses. California was very dry with wildfires both the spring and fall I visited. They have been going through a prolonged drought.

In the past year our family went on two road trips that took us through the nation to the furthermost points of the West Coast. It was apparent how important it is to conserve water through land use methods. Plants that adapt well to drought conditions are such an important part of the way homeowners can not only improve water usage, but provide shelter for wildlife and preserve essential aspects of our beautiful land.

Best Book about Prairie Gardening

PrairiePlantBookRead my complete book review of Gardening With Prairie Plants

There are many botanically unique areas of land to preserve, but most of us have gardens that are a mix of many different plants from all over the world. I don’t think that this is a problem, but I do think we need to be mindful of climate needs for the plants we choose.

The flowers that can bloom and thrive without too much additional water will not only be healthy looking in our landscape, but they will help us make best use of the available water… a diminishing resource where prolonged droughts take their toll.

Xeriscape is not only a method of planting, but incorporates mulching practices and watering times to conserve water. Choosing the right plants for your garden conditions is one part of several steps to incorporate your yard into the general environment in the best way possible.

How to Make a Renovated Ecosystem

Is it simple or difficult to create?

If you would like to create a garden that has the effect of a small prairie, that is simple, and it is easier to care for than most perennial gardens, but if you wanted to restore the land to its original state, that can be quite a complex undertaking. In fact, some might say you can’t really restore a prairie exactly to its original state.

Lesser Prairie Chicken

Lesser Prairie Chicken

Why are both these answers true?

The grassland is actually an entire ecosystem, which involves the delicate balance of animal and plant life, and specific events such as prairie fires. These are difficult to reproduce in most suburban or even rural places. That should not discourage you from making your own version of a prairie, however, but just define the process.

For most of us, a patch of simulated prairie, with a small number of our chosen plants and grasses, is the most satisfying way to reproduce the grasslands of the earlier days of America. Should making a facsimile not be the goal, some of these plants are the best and easiest perennials to grow for long bloom and their water conserving natures in our perennial garden border.

Tallgrass Prairies

Another Fine Resource on Tallgrass Prairie

Main points to remember:

  • Prairies are pretty much treeless (although there are Savannah areas), and their plants like full sun .
  • There were two main types of native grasslands in the US: the tall grass spaces that grew on wetter ground; and the short grass ones that were much drier.
  • When planting this patch, you must guard against weeds, like in any gardened areas.
  • While there is much bloom and variety, a prairie garden is much subtler in effect than a European style flower garden.



Steps to making your own:

  • Clear your soil of weeds- this is important.
  • Prepare the seed areas you would for any garden: dig, break up soil clumps, and rake it smooth for seeding
  • Sow the plant seeds in spring, plant out transplants after last frost
  • Keep well weeded, keep soil moist in the first year
  • In early spring, the garden debris should be either raked off or mowed down with a lawn mower.

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Ilona Erwin, author

Meet the Author


I started working on this website beginning in 1998, when it was part of "Ilona's Reflecting Pool". Since then I've branched out into a number of online endeavors and work at writing lots of content for my sites. The work on "Ilona's Garden" remains my primary site and is dedicated to home gardener's success.