Pocket Prairies

Green spaces are all the rage-and we couldn’t be happier! One of the best ways to create a diverse green space in an urban environment is by growing a pocket prairie. 

A pocket prairie is a small, pollinator-friendly planting or “pocket” of native plants. Any planted area under 1 acre can be considered a pocket prairie. Whether it’s a container garden, a portion of your lawn or just a designated area, any intentional native planting area that supports a few different species of native plants is a pocket prairie. The best pocket prairies include diversity of plant type, species type, colors, stature and bloom times so that it can support pollinators throughout the entire growing season. 

The benefits of a pocket prairie

Pocket prairies serve every member of the local ecosystem—including humans. In addition to boosting local habitat and increasing vital food sources for birds and pollinator insects, they help filter runoff water, reduce erosion, and even store carbon—all great for the environment. SInce they are suitable for any space, pocket prairies are one of the best ways to gain all the environmental, mental, and even the emotional benefits of the great outdoors through an easy-to-manage window into the natural world.

How-to start your pocket prairie

Before you dig in, there are a couple basics to cover. It is important to pick a good location and the appropriate plants for your region. 

The light location 

The right location is a light location. Most prairie plants require 6-8 hours of sunlight per day. For a shaded area be sure to select plants that prefer shade. 

Pick your plot

A big plot requires a lot of … everything. The larger the planting zone, the bigger the workload. Luckily you don’t need a big plot to make an impact. We recommend picking a manageable size plot that isn’t overwhelming for you, and growing from there.  

Moisture matters

Selecting species based on soil moisture tolerance is key. The better you know your soil type, the easier it’ll be to pick the appropriate plants. If your location has high moisture levels, choose plants that tolerate wetter soils and vice versa for drier species. 

Pick your planting method 

Most prairie species are perennial, sun-loving plants that will tolerate a variety of different moisture levels, provide diverse rotating blooms, and serve as foraging resources throughout the duration of the growing season.  

There are three ways to start your garden; seeds, seed balls or live plugs. Each has their benefits.

Seeds are least expensive but require the most work to germinate and establish.
Seed balls help distribute seed similar to how nature would but take more effort. 
Plugs tend to be the most expensive option but typically require a bit less work and have higher rates of establishment. 

Select species and stature
When it comes to selecting plant species, we recommend including a diverse range of plants with varying stature. In every pocket prairie, we recommend planting local grasses and wildflowers. 

Grasses are the true sign of a high-functioning prairie habitat. They hold soil in place and provide important structure, habitat, and food sources. Grasses also make great host plants for many important pollinators. We recommend planting at least 1-2 species of grasses. 
Wildflowers are beautiful and so important to pollinators. Most flowering prairie species serve as host plants and food sources. Select a variety of flower types with varying bloom times, colors and pollinator preferences to increase the diversity in your habitat. We recommend planting at least 2-4 species of wildflowers. 
 Sunday Tip: Consult the  US Fish & Wildlife Wildflower resource to ensure that you are purchasing the correct native plants.
Garden bed prep

Remove all existing vegetation and root systems in the area to reduce the competition for nutrients, light and water. Increase organic matter to fortify your soil with a nutrient-rich soil mix or compost

Plant your plot 

To better establish your plants try planting like-species near one another in clumps of 2-3 plants. Be sure to space them out according to plant recommendations to avoid over-planting your space.

How to support your pocket prairie

Regular maintenance is a part of gardening, even with native plants. Be sure to regularly water, especially when bringing seeds to germination or plugs to establishment. With some routine weeding and regular watering, your pocket prairie will thrive. 

We encourage everyone to make their pocket prairie a no pesticide zone-that means only using preventative, non-chemical methods. We recommend trying our (IPM) integrated pest management approach and only utilizing less harmful products when absolutely necessary.

Interested in learning more about Pocket Prairies? Connect with our 1% for the Planet partners at the Katy Prairie Conservancy to learn more about enhancing your pocket prairie garden. You can also sign up to take the Pollinator Protection Pledge with our partner Xerces Society

CITED SOURCES

Make a Pocket Prairie. Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center.  

Build a Pocket Prairie. Katy Prairie Conservancy.