The desire to control erosion and eliminate the need for spraying or mowing on the sloped section between the fire hall parking lot and the bike trail led to discussion about planting natural grass with a deeper root system. The demonstration site along the bike trail behind the Watertown fire station is planted in sun-loving buffalograss, a natural grass that helps with erosion control due to the depth (8 foot deep) of its root system. Buffalograss makes an excellent replacement for ordinary (high maintenance) bluegrass lawns. Little to no maintenance (water or mowing) is needed once the stand is established. Perennial forbes (wildflowers) and other specimen grasses will be added as the stand prospers.
Buffalo grassis one of many warm season (heat loving) perennial grasses (persisting for several years with new growth from roots) that grew naturally in the past. It is a versatile low-growing grass that spreads by stolons and by root and by seed. "Due to its good soil cover and drought resistance, buffalograss is frequently favored for erosion control...and for low water lawns." Grassland Plants of South Dakota and the Northern Great Plains, SDSU College of Ag & Bio Scicne B566 (rev.)1999.
Resources for More Information:
USDA NRCS Plants database USDA Plants
Codington Conservation District Codington Cons. Dist (buy plants from them, raised at the Big Sioux Nursery)
Beyond Bluegrass Brochure details root systems, suggested species, site prep and suggestions for use around areas such as lake shoreline, storm sewers and stormwater runoff areas, creeks or other drainage, etc.
UBS Prairie Education Garden
A selection of natural plants grow in front of the UBS/TREC building on the Bramble Park Zoo campus. A variety of heights, seed heads and flowers can be seen in the following photos.
Photos and descriptions of some of the prairie plants:
Big Bluestem grass, a perennial warm-season tallgrass plant reaches 3-7 feet in height with up to 8’ roots. The grass produces ‘turkey foot’ spikes and blades turn rust red in the fall.
Blue grama grass is a short, warm-season perennial growing 4-18 inches tall with ‘eyebrow’ shaped seed heads. Blue grama is drought tolerant.
Buffalograss, a warm season perennial shortgrass, reproduces by above-ground stems called stolons. Leaves are hairy and curly. Buffalograss is sun-loving and drought resistant. Once established, this grass requires little to no watering or mowing.
Leadplant, a shrubby perennial, grows 1-3 feet in height with violet flowers. Leadplant grows deep-roots, draws moisture from more than 4 feet below the surface.
Little bluestem, a warm-season perennial bunchgrass, grows 1-3 feet. The color is a light silver-blue and spikey looking.
Prairie dropseed, a warm-season perennial with nearly circular growth of 4-10 inches across, sprouts tiny, rounded, hardened seeds,
Sideoats grama, a warm-season perennial sod-forming midgrass, has distinctive spike seeds which hang from the seed stalk along one side.