I walked up to my first prairie smoke plants last summer in Allerton Park outside Monticello IL, and it was love at first site.

The Wisconisn Master Gardener Program has a comprehensive and beautifully illustrated page that will tell you everything you need to know about this gorgeous prairie gem here.

Though Prairie Smoke (Geum triflorum) looks enchantingly like something from the Planet Zorg, it was once quite common in prairie land across southern Canada and central and northern U.S.

Now it is so rare that I lived 60 years without seeing it. It shares a common fate with many other lovely native plants – outcompeted by invaders and crowded out by development.

I want to create a protected foothold for it by my barn and see what I can do to make it at home throughout our restored prairie from that little nursery.

Its going to need some breathing room.

I am providing that by starting a small bit of the sheet mulching I posted about last week.  (check out the details here)   Sheet mulching (also called making a compost comforter—which seems more like it to me) allows you to clear an area of sod or other plants you want to discourage without digging them out.

Proper sheet mulching requires gathering many different materials for its multiple layers, and after taking the class, I figured I’d have to wait till next spring to assemble my supplies.  But then I decided to wing it a bit and see what happens.

Step one:  Cut the plants down and let them lay.  I scythed the very thick grass as close as I could.  Then add some concentrated compost to jump-start the process. We have a great compost pile in town, but we do not move materials like this back and forth from town to land or vice versa because we have oak wilt at the land and who-knows-what in town.  So, I added some composted horse manure from my neighbor’s farm.

..White line around future prairie smoke plantings.

Step two:  A layer of biodegradable weed barrier – also called cardboard. We had a nice sheet of that in the barn.

Step three:  A good manure layer. Can do! (see above)

Step four:  Another carbon layer of shredded paper or straw. For this purpose, I used an old phone book and an early draft of my middle-grade novel (still unpublished)  Runaway Ghost.  (It’s hard times in the book publishing world, so I’m glad to see my novel will at least be enjoyed by the worms.  But don’t despair.  You may still see it in your local library someday.  I’m starting the next rewrite.)

..when it comes to this bed, I wrote the book.


Step five:  Another compost layer. (You guessed it – more manure.)

I am given to believe that this will cook down over the winter and be ready to plant in by spring.  I’m hoping it will be the perfect growing bed for my little prairie smoke plants.

For all its wild-haired ways, prairie smoke is a poor competitor.  A compost comforter should give it the welcome it needs to make a comeback here.  Here’s hoping this last-minute bed will go up in smoke.

What last minute projects are you slipping in before the ground freezes?

6 replies

  1. Hi Joanna,
    I haven’t heard of that system. How do you do it? Is it to protect them from sun scald?
    We have two apple saplings that survived my beginner’s grafting technique, a Black Gilliflower and a Prairie Sap.
    They have spent the summer wrapped round with chicken wire to keep the deer from eating them.
    Last winter we had very early and deep snow here, and in many places I heard that people lost young trees because mice were living in the mulch around their bases under the snow and ate the bark off. So we added a 4-inch diameter tube of very fine mesh screening around their bases, then put back the deer protection.
    I hope all our young fruit trees will still be alive next spring.

  2. Nice work! Prairie Smoke is one of my favorites also.

    My last minute project involves raking and clearing the barren areas uncovered after removing stands of massive honeysuckle. After they’re cleared, I’ll seed the areas with natives before winter. I also killed off about 1,500 square feet of lawn, and still need to cut down the dead grass to prepare for early-winter native seeding.

    Lots to do, but it looks like the weather is going to be great today!

  3. Hi Jon,
    It does seem like we are getting a generous supply of gorgeous last minutes this fall, doesn’t it?
    Honeysuckle is a worthy foe! We don’t have it in a stand, but scattered throughout our woods. We have been going after it with a weed wrench.
    Is that what you use?
    I learned about them while volunteering at the UW Arboretum. I got assigned to use it and felt like Superwoman.
    I’ll be very interested to hear how your transition from lawn to native seeding goes.
    Thanks so much for contributing your list. It’s an inspiring list.

    • Thanks for sharing your photos and your blog. I see the similarity too. They are both so beautiful, aren’t they?

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