Pocket Prairie: Under Cover

“Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

When we began this project Memorial Day weekend, it seemed that eight weeks of plastic ‘cooking’ would seem quite a long time.

Until it didn’t. (Where did summer go?)

As the race began for plastic to break down with daily UV bombardment, I was already searching for another 20-yard load of chipped trees. The tell-tale sound of an industrial wood-chipper in the distance usually gets me moving. Thankfully, the neighbors were having tree work done and didn’t want to keep the debris, so I conspired to have it all delivered straight to my driveway.

At the end of their work day, the crew was only too happy to oblige, emptying their truck for free on my property rather than pay a fee to dump at the compost yard.

Free for them and me … everybody wins.

From Their Yards To Mine

Keep it Covered.

If you don’t have something green growing (or plastic keeping things from growing) it’s super-important to cover bare soil with something thick and brown. If you don’t, I can guarantee you grasses and other plants you don’t want will take over.

Green mulch? Pick your weed. Brown mulch? Pile it thick.

Mulching is Nature’s secret to keeping the soil microorganisms and animals happy and healthy. Soil is a living organism, and my intentional killing of grasses with plastic film also sterilizes the soil directly underneath. Using a thick cover of moistened carbon material — leaves, cardboard, or chipped trees watered well — invites the creatures who repair dead soil to come back. They do all the good work, but you have to moisten it well first.

Saturated carbon mulches become a flashing neon sign for the underworld beings: COME UP FOR DINNER! Before long, populations of mycorrhizal fungi and earthworm and soil beetles make their way back in, ready to aid the young grasses and wildflowers planted as they establish.

Goodbye turf grass. Hello pocket prairie foundation!

Dead grass (left), Mulch (right)

Prairie Education

I was privileged this month to attend Prairie 201 held at Deer Park’s Lawther Prairie by the Native Prairie Association of Texas’ Houston Chapter. It was a fantastic and slightly over-whelming day of learning all about prairie ecosystems, how to create a healthy environment for insects and native plant species, how to identify these species and propagate seeds from them. I met so many wonderful people who are at least as enamored with the coastal prairie as I am … perhaps even more.

Next month, I begin classes to become a Texas Master Naturalist. It’s high time for me to get real with it already.

Lawther PrairieHistory Lesson

Temporary Netted Captives
How many can you count?
(More than 100!)

Live tick (bottom) with dead ones.
It was picked off a classmate indoors. *shudder*

Lindheimer’s Beeblossom
Guara lindheimeri

Partridge Pea — Bees LOVE these!
Chamaecrista fasciculata

Prairie Blazing Star
Liatris pycnostachya

Whorled Milkweed — So TINY.
Asclepias verticillata

These wild and Texas native species are just a teaser for what I hope will grace our backyard pocket prairie. In the manicured and managed landscape that is the Houston suburbs, a little bit of wild paired with stewardship (on my part) is a great way to bring Nature right on in. As we watch natural habitats get destroyed for more and more human habitat (aka houses, restaurants, roads) it sure feels good to be giving just a little bit back.

The process of nature tends to be slow and purposeful, and though waiting is the hardest part in my own gotta-have-it-now existence, I know this project will be well worth it in the long game.

Plastic film gets pulled, recycled.

10 wheelbarrows down,
only 60 more to go.

Here’s hoping that the unseasonably cool weather Houston is currently enjoying last justs a few more days … before the oppressive heat that is always August arrives on schedule.

Stay tuned!

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15 thoughts on “Pocket Prairie: Under Cover

  1. How cool! I always learn something new and exciting from you, Shannon! Sounds like you have had an interesting summer. Kids go back to school here on Monday *sigh* Way too short of a summer break. Glad mine is grown. But I start back to college on Aug 26. Where have the last 2 months gone??


    1. I finished up mulching the prairie this weekend. Now … time to go SHOPPING! It’s still too hot to begin planting perennial grasses and wildflowers yet, but I will begin the pricing budget and mark where to get what.

      Yes, the summer moved way too fast, Courtney. I’m enjoying the last week of quiet mornings to myself; next week, teens will be up at 8:00a to get ready for 8-5 ‘work’ the following week. Then school starts. Time sure flies, doesn’t it?

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, it helped that this is in my backyard, but because it can also be seen from the street, I have to be careful not to alarm the HOA. I just created what looks to be a giant flower bed.

      Whenever I hear an industrial chipper going off in the distance, I get in the van to see if I can track it down. It’s how I’ve secured the last four free loads. Pays to listen!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Good for you. I started the Master Naturalist program, but I just couldn’t manage it while still working. I think I might have been able to pull it off if I had a job with predictable hours, but trying to deal with the demands of the program and the variability of the weather at work made for a scheduling nightmare. After three months, I threw in the towel. I regret not being able to do it, but there are other ways to be engaged.

    I laughed at your comment about unseasonably cool weather. On the other hand, we haven’t cracked 100 yet, so it’s all good. And here comes August!


    1. Oh, Linda! I’m sorry that you didn’t get to finish. Perhaps one day you’ll get your chance. Getting the TXMN cert will help me when selling the pocket prairie concept to schools in my district next year. The one in my yard is a pilot program of sorts. Working the kinks out on my time so as to have real experience to take with me down the road. Keeping my eye on the prize which is still down the road a bit.

      Yes, it seems weird we’ve not cracked three digits yet. but we all know Houston saves the best of summer for last.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I still have the book, though, and they still have my registration fee on the books, just in case I can see my way clear to give it another go. Which chapter will you be joining?


  3. I admire you for tackling this project, Shannon. I hope it will turn out the way you envision it. And congratulations on starting your naturalist master classes. It sounds as if this course was tailor-made for you. 🙂


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