Prairie gardens offer Midwestern suburban dwellers an alternative option to the traditional grass lawn. Their combination of native grasses, like tall and wispy bluestem and sideoats, and forbs, such as the colorful yellow and purple coneflowers, are a welcome addition to any lawn.
They also attract beneficial bees and other insects, as well as beautiful butterflies. The prairie plants are native to the Midwest and once established can require fewer resources, such as water, fertilizer, and time to maintain.
“The aesthetic is all part of the package,” says Marie Johnston of the University of Wisconsin–Madison Department of Soil Science. “By planting native species, people find some intrinsic value in giving back to the environment.”
Besides just the gardens looking pleasing to the eye, Johnston was interested in the ability of prairie gardens to benefit the soil underneath them. Urbanization is known to degrade the quality of soil. The process usually requires stripping the topsoil away to make room for building foundations. This, coupled with increased traffic from heavy machinery, can lead to soil compaction.
“While our data don’t support that prairie gardens are flat out better for soil than lawns, the four properties all moved in a consistent direction and were all in agreement and good for the soil,” explains Johnston. “So then you step back from that as a scientist and ask, is that a meaningful change? In some cases this change could be functionally important and should be explored in more research.” –(December 2015) by Kaine Korzekwa on Soils Sustain Life, blog site for the Soil Science Society of America .