Park landscaping work includes planting of native prairie species

Originally published in the Kenosha News

By Horticulture Educator, Jeanne Hilinske-Christensen

The landscape at Petrifying Springs Park continues to change. Park visitors may have noticed work being done on some areas located in and adjacent to parking lots 3, 4 and 5. The islands in all three lots, along with retention areas near lots 3 and 4 are being renovated by Kenosha County Park staff and Master Gardener Volunteers.

Kenosha County Parks Director Matt Collins, at the request of County Executive Jim Kreuser, enlisted UW-Extension Master Gardeners to assist with the renovation project under the leadership of a parks intern.

The plants selected for this project include prairie forbs and grasses. Planting a prairie area from seed is challenging, since it usually takes three years for establishment. During this time, controlling weeds becomes a main concern. Master Gardeners and the parks intern manually removed weeds, such as common ragweed and sweet clover, which were growing among desired species.

Fall is one of the recommended times to sow native prairie species. Following a hard freeze in November, the areas were raked and prepared for seeding, and a native seed mix formulated for bio-swales and retention areas was sown. A covering of straw was applied to the newly seeded areas to help keep the seed in place, since these areas are designed to direct and hold water. The frigid temperatures of winter will provide natural stratification for the seeds, which require a cold treatment in order to germinate.

Properly timed maintenance tasks in the seeded areas will help achieve successful plantings. The 2019 plans for these areas include mowing the plantings once per month before weeds set seed. Mowing will not harm the desired prairie species, as root establishment is the priority over top growth. At the end of the growing season, the dead vegetation will be left standing to insulate the seeds during winter and to provide habitat for overwintering pollinators.

In 2020, the areas will be mowed in early spring and raked to remove the plant debris. During the summer, when some of the weeds are flowering, the areas will be mowed at 12 inches in height, before the weeds go to seed. In 2021 and years after, the areas will be mowed or burned in early spring. Prescribed burns help to eliminate unwanted species and may encourage dormant seeds to germinate.

If all goes according to plan, these areas will provide natural beauty to the parking lot bio-swales and retention areas while requiring less maintenance.

Visit the park and follow the progress of these plantings to view how native plants can play an integral role in sustainable landscapes while adding natural beauty to public areas.