Fire is an essential restoration tool. It gets rid of brush and weeds while encouraging the growth of native wildflowers.
In a prairie restoration, planting the seeds is just the first step toward re-creating a prairie. These areas need a lot of attention to maintain their unique structure and distinctive plant and animal communities. The land managers who take care of these natural areas are commonly called “stewards”. Stewards do all the things necessary to improve and maintain prairies and savannas.
One of the most important tools for managing a prairie or savanna is fire. Stewards use fire to remove brush that can shade-out prairie plants while encouraging the native plants including wild bergamot, black-eyed susans, butterfly milkweed, prairie coneflowers and wild lupine. Fire can also be used to discourage certain weeds by burning prairie when the prairie plants have died back for the winter. Stewards go through federal fire training courses and follow prescribed burn plans that outline the appropriate weather conditions to ensure fires are conducted safely.
Prairie and savanna seeds often sprout and grow along side a wide array of weeds. These weeds compete with native plants for root space and access to the sun. Stewards work very hard to suppress weeds and give native plants the best chance to establish and grow. Stewards are able to suppress weeds by using a number of different techniques such as herbiciding, chainsawing, brushcutting and weeding.
Overseeing prairies and savannas involves managing the property itself. A steward builds and/or removes fencing, ensures drainage is functioning, and works with neighbors to resolve any mutual problems.
Prairies need to be tended in other ways too, and need to be re-planted. Stewards decide when a planting is successful and when it has failed. They reassess the original plans, and then design a new planting. It is the steward’s responsibility to ensure all the plant species in a planting grow.
Above all, it is the steward's job to ensure that we are meeting our species diversity goals. We remove trees from our black oak savannas to allow more light to reach the layer of forbs and grasses - attracting red-headed woodpeckers. We plant plugs of certain rare plants, such as violets, which are essential for the survival of the regal fritillary butterfly. Occasionally, one of our restorations needs to be replanted. It is the responsibility of a steward to decide if a planting has been successful - or if it needs to be over-seeded. Ultimately, the steward must ensure all of the desired species are represented in the prairie and savanna.
What is a Weed?
Many plants are referred to as weeds, but what actually is a weed? A weed is any undesirable species. What one person thinks of as a weed, another may think is the most beautiful flower in the world.
Within natural areas where restoration is taking place more specific terms are used to describe plant species. Native plants are defined as those naturally found in a certain geographical area and habitat. All of our desired plants are native. Non-native plants and exotic plants are those which are not naturally from the area. Invasive species are those which displace native plants and decrease over-all biodiversity. An interesting fact is that there are some native plants that are also invasive.