The Benefits of Burning Prairie Grass

Long ago, large swaths of North America—and especially the Midwest—were covered with prairies. But due to factors including industrialization, farming, and construction, many of these prairies no longer exist.

Prairies are a unique ecosystem characterized by tall grasses, few trees, diverse wildlife, and a temperate climate. A natural prairie environment is almost always less dense because for thousands of years the prairie ecosystem has been susceptible to lightning strikes. These lightning strikes create natural prairie fires that are critical to sustaining a healthy prairie ecosystem.

Over thousands of years, prairie grass seeds have not only adapted to fire—they’ve actually evolved to benefit from it. The fire helps remove dead plant material enabling prairie grass seeds to more easily find their way down to the soil. A prairie fire also eliminates competition from other plants that might take nutrients and resources from fledgling prairie grasses.

At Engledow, we’ve had our own prairie ecosystem right next to our Carmel facility for more than 15 years. And in order to maintain this natural prairie, we do a controlled burn of our prairie grasses once a year. But since burning prairie grass is a potentially dangerous process that requires specific training, we outsource the job to the experts at Turner Forestry.

A controlled burn of prairie grass is best done during the spring. Humidity and moisture levels are appropriate at this time. In addition, the charred, blackened debris helps to capture heat from the sun which tends to warm the soil more quickly. This is a catalyst for accelerating the germination of new prairie grass seeds during spring months.

Burning a prairie isn’t always an option due to a variety of factors. If you’re working on creating a prairie environment but can’t burn your grasses, it’s always best to mow the grass once a year. While mowing won’t achieve the same effect as burning, it will help to prevent the invasion of undesirable plants and will aid in new prairie seed germination.

If you’re interested in creating your own prairie ecosystem, patience is key. It takes roughly five years to create a healthy, vibrant prairie, and for the first few years, people might mistake your nascent prairie for a weed patch. But don’t get discouraged—if you stick with it, a natural prairie can add great beauty to any landscape.

To find out more about how we can put our landscaping and horticultural expertise to work for you, call 317-575-1100.

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