Prairie Management

As part of our goal of maintaining diverse habitats within the park district, we are currently creating areas of native prairie and grasslands at several of our parks. Native prairies contain special plants not normally found in old field habitats. Ohio prairies are diverse areas which offer special habitat to a variety of wildlife species.

Establishing prairies is not always easy. Existing weeds and grasses need to be eradicated in order to make room for the new plants before seeding can take place. Seeding usually takes place in winter to early spring with a special planter modified to handle the very small, sometimes fuzzy seeds.

Before the prairie plants become established, other vegetation needs to be kept in check by mowing and spraying periodically so the prairie plants don’t get shaded-out. However, within a few years the prairie becomes self-sustaining with little need for herbicides or mowing.

Historically, prairies in this region would have been located in areas of disturbance, usually by fire set by Native Americans. Prairie grasses and flowers have evolved special features which protect them from fire such as deep roots and other perennial tissue located under the ground, protected from intense heat. Without periodic fires in our region, woody plants such as trees and brush would shade out and overtake prairies.

prairie In order to mimic grassland fires that would have taken place historically, we use prescribed fire. The use of prescribed fire is widely accepted by many government and private conservation agencies as the most efficient and effective way to maintain large prairie areas.

Prescribed fire controls unwanted woody growth, promotes early prairie seed germination by removing dead plant material, and helps control non-native plants.

Although the exact time of burning depends on weather conditions, generally burns are conducted in either late fall or early spring for two reasons. First, at this time of the year above ground prairie tissue that could later slow prairie growth is already dead and will burn well.

Second, most wildlife species that could be negatively affected by fire are either using other types of habitat or are underground at this time of year.

Because fire can be potentially dangerous and destructive, prescribed burning requires special training. Field borders are mowed close to the ground to create “fire breaks” which are designed to help contain the fire.

Permits from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and the Ohio Division of Forestry must be obtained. Burn plans which outline acceptable conditions for burning must be followed in order to ensure safety.

Neighbors to the parks who wish to be contacted before burns take place should call our office at 740-524-8600.