Lessons Learned

The following are some of the lessons that we have learned in the process of restoring our woods and planting and maintaining our prairies. I’m sure there are many others but these have stuck with me. 


There’s a LOT of dogma out there. It’s easier to believe and it’s easier to pass along. To be sure you’re getting the proper info, always ask “how does the biology of that work?”

There are 50 ways to right…know your goal and what your resources are before beginning.

When taking advice from folks, make sure you understand their goals and your goals. How things are done for high-quality prairies and remnants can differ from how things are done for large-acreage prairies planted mainly for habitat or CRP. If you’re talking with a CRP person and you have a remnant, you might not get the right info.



Do not plant seeds or plants if you do not know exactly what they are. Sounds simple and easy but when friends collect seeds and give them to you, they may not be marked properly. It’s very hard to tell Canada Goldenrod or Yarrow seed from other seeds with fluff.

Land preparation is the best thing you can do to ensure your seeds germinate and aren’t outcompeted by weeds. We did 2-year crop rotations on ours but still needed to herbicide weeds before the growing season was over.

Don’t skimp on the amount of seed you put out the first time. I measure in pounds per acre and plant 10lbs per acre or more.

Make sure you have a sufficient amount of those early germinating seeds, such as black-eyed susan, evening primrose, etc. as they will hold the soil weed-free until the longer-lived plants get their roots down.

Do not plant the sod-forming tall grasses in the initial planting; plant only the bunchgrasses. Plant those tall grasses such as Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans) and Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) in the 3rd or 4th year or not at all. They are very aggressive and will decrease diversity.

Goldenrods — Plant a sparse amount of Gray Goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis) and Missouri Goldenrod (Solidago missouriensis) the first year and no others. You can then add any others into the mix in the 3rd or 4th growing season. Goldenrods can outcomplete other plants in a new planting.


Land Preparation and Management

Keep the invasives and aggressive weedy plants under control the first few years.

Don’t skimp on preparing your land prior to planting. This is the MOST important step in the process.



Much of what is known about fire comes from research done in Kansas and other ecosystems that are not like the Driftless Area. Few fires began in the Driftless Area by lightning, but they are frequent in the northwest and in Florida. One cannot extropolate studies from differing ecosystems and have them function properly.

Annual fire is not normal. Pioneer accounts would say they saw fires burning every year, which is probably accurate, but seldom in the same place year after year. And eye-witness accounts are deeply undependable.

Never plan a burn without planned refugia of like habitat. Our insects need us caring about their existence. 



Mowing is an execellent management technique and should not be discounted. Mowing can delay the need for a burn as the chopped up thatch is allowed to feed the soil and retain the soil’s moisture while allowing light to reach the soil.