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Transition to Urban Native Plant Pocket Prairie

flower prairie and live oak trees against a background of high rise buildings
“Prairies, as it turns out, are really great at dealing with a lot of challenges that urban issues have,” environmental designer John Hart Asher told us in May at a pocket prairie just a skip away from downtown’s hustle and bustle. “Rainwater runoff, carbon sequestration, heat island mitigation, habitat.”
man standing in field of wildflowers
This 14,000 square foot native plant prairie is one of many ongoing restoration and conservation projects as Blackland Collaborative, co-founded in 2020 with ecologist Michelle Bertelsen and environmental designer Emily Manderson. CTG first met Emily in September 2019 when she joined John Hart in his second program as host to examine “Rethinking Landscapes in Weather Challenges.”
flowering wildflowers against live oak trees
This old Austin neighborhood is mere blocks from a heat-reflecting major thoroughfare and IH-35. The property’s new homeowner asked Blackland Collaborative to establish habitat based on the historic climax community.
man on roof overlooking  green space against high rise buildings
“What does that mean? Well, all of the plants, the grasses, the flowers that would have been here when we still had the bison and the wildfires coming through,” John Hart said.
stair steps to stone path and wildflowers
They spent a year to prepare the site—removing invasives species and amending the soil with compost and biochar (John Hart explains that in our video). In October 2022, they sowed wildflower seeds and planted native grasses.
man with camera in field of wildflowers
Thanks to generous spring rains, the glorious transformation restored pollinators eager to visit clasping coneflower, bee balm, and other late spring annuals. Director Ed Fuentes (and grip Steve Maedl) were as awed as I was.
white flower against stone path American basket flower was coming into its own in May.
flowers against stone path
We saw plains coreopsis and winecup along with bluebonnets and pink evening primrose setting seeds.
2-foot plant with seed heads
Blue curls (Phacelia congesta) joined the seed-setters to populate the future.
fuzzy looking tall plant among lavender and golden wildflowers
On our visit, standing cypress rosettes promised spikes of red tubular flowers for hummingbirds. And John Hart hopes to see liatris blooming in fall. “But again, this a brand-new prairie, so we’ll see what she gives us,” he noted.
yellow flowers and short thin-leaved grasses
Annual partridge pea popped up against wild rye. “But this prairie was designed so that we have succession that will occur and that will slowly start to morph more towards grass dominance and perennials. So, while all those guys and gals are in here right now, you can’t see them,” he said.
short clumping grasses against colorful flowers and stone path
“When we start prairies, we’re talking about trajectories, not interventions. Let us practice what I like to call the art of becoming,” he reminded us.
wildflowers against large grayish-leave clumping grasses
To formalize a stone raised bed along the patio’s wall, they planted big muhly (Lindheimer muhly), guaranteed to steal the glory in this fall’s flowering.
short grasses and flowers against stone path
Prairies are grass-dominated systems. This first spring, though, prairie-planted grasses are a bit slower to establish since they faced light competition from robust wildflowers.
man waving in wildflower field
They installed 300 one-gallon native little bluestem grass. In CTG’s video, he explained why they started with transplants with this species and how to plant in sun and shade.
green roof plants to city scape high rise buildings
Blackland Collaborative’s first project at this site was a green roof started in late 2021. This 800-square-feet mini-prairie tops a new-construction pool house.
green roof flowers and grasses above pocket prairie
In six to 12 inches of growing media, they planted over 35 species of grasses and wildflowers, now getting fully established. We didn’t get into details, since green roof designs are not DIY projects over an existing structure, but we’ve featured them before and will do so again!
lavender and white and lavender flowers
But we can all do something in our yards to extend Doug Tallamy’s Homegrown National Park interactive project. See how you can get involved!
man with camera and other man holding light while John Hart talks about the prairie
On our visit to this in-town habitat, we counted at least 17 construction cranes at hard work. Whatever we can do makes a difference, and as John Hart noted, “It is a continual dynamic, dynamic process that really rewards us.”

Two seed sources for you
Native American Seed (based in Texas)

Prairie Moon (they also sell plugs, including native milkweed)

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