People might have noticed some work taking place along the drive just inside the entrance at the Byron Forest Preserve District’s headquarters site, the Jarrett Prairie Preserve.
What is the land management crew up to? The District is in the process of converting about two acres of lawn into two acres of high diversity native prairie. The District’s top mission is to preserve natural areas and native biodiversity; land acquisition, protection, and restoration all work towards that goal. We are at a point in time where every acre of native habitat is vitally important to hundreds of our local native species of plants and wildlife. Converting these two acres of lawn will help meet this important mission.
An additional benefit to the District is that two less acres of grass will need to be mowed every week, saving staff time, reducing fuel use, and reducing wear on mowers. We also expect that in a couple of years, the entrance to the Jarrett Prairie will feel less park like and more like you are immersed right into the Jarrett Prairie preserve as you enter from River road. These new prairie plantings will also help connect the Heritage Farm Savanna with the expanded Clyde James Prairie and then up the hill towards the River Woods.
The process to turn grass sod into diverse prairie can be achieved in a few ways. We are readying the site by both removing some of the sod, and spraying and then lightly tilling other areas. Both methods can work well. We then will broadcast barrels of native seed, around 30 pounds per acre of bulk seed, using a drop seeder over the two acres. This seed is both hand-collected from District preserves and some of it is purchased from native seed nurseries. Establishing a prairie takes some time and patience, the first year will look rather weedy, as mostly annual plants will dominate the new planting.
The native perennial prairie plants can take a few years to bloom, but by year two and then especially in year three, the former lawn will be full of blooming wildflowers and the bees, butterflies, birds and other wildlife that accompany our Illinois prairies.