Prairie Gardens as an Alternative to Turfgrass

Water Conservation for Lawn and Landscape November 21, 2014 Print Friendly and PDF

Prairie gardens are a great alternative to turfgrass. Depending on species, prairie plants can use less water and can provide a long display of color. Prairie gardens can provide habitat for wildlife as well. The following steps can help start the process of designing the prairie garden. Prairie gardens consist of grasses as well as flowering perennial plants.

  • Site selection - Prairie plants prefer full sun and fairly large open spaces
  • Site preparation - Remove weeds and other existing vegetation. This can be accomplished by using herbicides or tilling
  • Plant selection - Plant selection should be based upon soil type and climate
  • Seeds vs. potted plants
    • Using seed is more economical, but takes longer to establish
    • Use a local seed source to ensure that plants will be adapted to the local area
    • Potted plants establish more quickly but are more expensive but can be placed directly where desired
  • Planting dates - The best time to sow seed is in the spring, after frost but before the heat of summer. Fall sowing is also acceptable. Avoid planting potted plants during the summer as this will increase water use for plant survival


Prairie meadow and butterfly garden featuring purple and yellow coneflowers Echinacea spp.)
Photo credit: Phillip Brewer Flickr CC BY 2.0


Prairie style garden
Photo credit: Maarten Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Additional Resources:

Establishing and Maintaining a Prairie Garden - University of Minnesota

Grassland Regions:

Tallgrass Prairie

Palouse Prairie

Southern Mixed Prairie

Northern Mixed Prairie

Shortgrass Prairie


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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.