Meet Agnes and Dana, citizens creating habitat

By Bill Kleiman

These two have a lot of energy. On the left is Dana Sievertson and the right Agnes Wojnarski.

This is their back yard in Prospect Heights, a suburb of Chicago. They started growing plugs six years back. Annually, they grow about 20,000 prairie and wetland plant plugs from seed! One year they grew 35,000 plugs.

The early plants emerging in their modest green house. When the seedlings are big enough they separate them into cells, and maybe later separating them again into even more cells.

Depending on the need for the year, they grow about 40 species and have them ready for installation. They also trade plugs for seed from other organizations.

Transplanting seedlings with the help of the Poplar Creek Volunteer Stewards, a group that has been managing and restoring habitats for decades.

The plants are in their cells with space to grow out to vigorous plugs.

Flats are eventually placed outside for the season.

Looking down at many flats of plants. All the blank areas are flats that were recently installed.

Agnes and Dana are commissioners with the Prospect Heights Natural Resources Commission, which hosts volunteer workdays where citizens help care for and eventually install the plugs. Recently 2,000 plugs were installed in an area once dominated by cattails. They have created prairie plantings in park district lawns. They installed plugs in open water where they excluded carp. They also pick and plant seed and often add seed where they are plugging. They work carefully with neighbors to get buy in. They also burn these habitats.

Installing plugs in an area where cattail were cut and herbicided. Their volunteer base is about 40 citizens. A typical workday is a 12-15 people, but they can get a group of 40 to show up. They sometimes get help from the local schools and Eagle Scouts.

It won’t be a surprise that the front yard of Agnes and Dana is all prairie plants rather than lawn. These are seed sources for their works.

A visit often includes a sumptuous meal made by Dana who attended a culinary school, and has an art degree. Their house if full of art works, wagging dogs, and a comfort that is palpable.

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Beware what seed you buy

by Bill Kleiman

You likely don’t know invasive Lespedeza daurica. I will tell you why in a bit. But it is similar to the invasive Lespedeza cuneata, but more likely found prostrate like the specimen I put in the pot above. This was years ago, when my daughter and Jay would tell stories and laugh. They are still good buddies.

Lespedeza daurica above. We had made a purchase of a native seed mix from a seed nursery and had ordered Lespedeza virginica, slender bush clover. It appears that this nursery was wild harvesting from the only site in the state with L daurica and sold it to us by error. The occurrence of this invasive legume matches perfectly with all the places we planted that seed mix. The correct Lespedeza is nowhere to be found in those plantings. I informed the nursery once we figured this out, but the damage was done.

We kept trying to key out this Lespedeza to what we ordered, but it would not go there. Nor would it key to anything else. So we sent a specimen to the Illinois herbarium and another expert looked at a specimen. We had half a dozen top botanists view specimens. We were kindly informed that we appear to be one of the few occurrences in the state of this invasive. Such an honor.

This was back in September of 2007. We started to go after this species with vigor. Above, a young Josh Clark is cutting and barreling the plant. We applied herbicide to the cut stems. Today on cut stems we use basal bark mix or concentrated glyphosate. We hauled many barrels away. For foliar spray we use a tryclopyr. Transline does not kill Lespedeza. Plants are hard to dig up but it is possible when soils are soft.

Four of the infected plantings are still here. We dropped the occurrences to a scattering of plants but finding those needles in the prairie stack is an annual challenge. One large planting that was full of this weed we boom sprayed back then, and continue to boom spray. We do this to lower the threat of spreading. That field has been reduced to a sad collection of grass and monocots.

Fourteen years later and we are still doing our annual L daurica weed sweep. We gps locations and we keep pushing. My wife and I were just out at sunset checking a patch. We found about a dozen. Snip, spray, and bucket.

Caveat emptor – let the buyer beware.

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Another example of savanna from a prairie planting

This ten second video simply shows a panorama of many oaks growing in a prairie planting from what was a corn field. https://youtu.be/zeCK9dqYRZ0

This “savanna” planting, if you will allow the phrase, is another prairie planting but we did not plant any acorns as we expected the squirrels would plant them for us. There are mature oaks on both sides of this narrow planting so it was easy to envision squirrels caching acorns everywhere, which they did.

See the blue flagging on the oak on the right. That oak is starting to emerge from the “discipline” of the frequent prescribed fires we use on this unit. There are hundreds of black oak, bur oak, shagbark hickory. There are some trees we would rather not have more of, like cottonwood, and a few autumn olive which we treated. The original prairie planting took well and is quite diverse.

Above is the same savanna planting looking south instead of north. On the left is the neighbor’s old oak woods with ancient oaks and hickory but no oak recruitment due to the excessive shade from brush. Everything else on the right side of the lane is frequently burned. On the right slope is our woods which is more open and has oak recruitment. But look at all the oak recruitment in what was a corn field. There are about 5 oaks in there that are big enough to be trees.

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Weed Wiper

By Mike Saxton, Shaw Nature Reserve, Missouri Botanical Garden

Combatting woody encroachment continues to be a challenge for Midwestern land managers.  Whether it’s sumac in prairies, honeysuckle in the woodlands, or willows in our wetlands, brushy thickets drive down native biodiversity and bedevil our efforts to best manage the land.  Cutting and treating is effective but laborious, resource intensive, and often fails to meet the scale of the problem.  Foliar spraying/basal barking can be effective but collateral damage, especially in high quality areas, is often outside our range of tolerance.

Here at Shaw Nature Reserve (Missouri Botanical Garden site – 35 west of St. Louis), I have used this weed wiper / weed roller for a couple of field seasons to combat shingle oak Quercus imbricaria, border privet – Ligustrum obtusifolium and a few other randoms including sumac, autumn olive and Lonicera.

Our wiper is 10ft wide and we mount on a Ford 3930.  The tires are ~2ft wide and there is something like 3ft between the tires, leaving 18in on each side of the tires.  The glyphosate label says to use a 33% v/v solution with 10% v/v surfactant for a wiper application.  (label excerpt at bottom of post)

Roller is controlled by tractor hydraulics.  Sprayer is an electric pump with powerful magnet holding the spray button, operated from tractor cab. 

The implement is sturdy, nice welds, good construction.  If it was any wider, it’d be too wide.  I wouldn’t be able to nimbly slalom between desirable trees and other hazards.  When you go through topographic areas or ditches, you have to watch that the roller doesn’t hit the ground.  Dirt isn’t good for it and it’ll also will kill whatever vegetation it hits.  If it was any smaller…it would take forever and if it was smaller, too much of the total length would be taken up by tire width.  A challenge is that you have to go fairly slowly in order to roll enough herbicide onto the stems…so the slow speed is a challenge.

The biggest issue for us has been timing.  There seems to be a 3-4 week window in the spring where the woodies are sufficiently leafed out and when the native vegetation considerably shorter than the woodies.  You want to set the wiper height just above the native vegetation to ensure that you hit as much of the woodies as possible.

Above: shingle oaks in a prairie planting.  Treated on 5.26.21.  Picture from 6.8.21.  I flagged 4 of the browned oaks and checked 8.23.21 with no signs of life. 

The short shrubs, especially sumac, springs right back up after the tractor rolls over it, even when the tires roll over them.  The wiper makes good contact.  The taller woodies do not spring back up as well. 

The manual does recommend that you make a pass in one direction and a pass in the other direction.  I don’t always have time for a two-direction application.  The owner of Weed Works told me that when you stop turning the roller, if it drips within 2 seconds, you’re over saturated.  If it takes more than 8 seconds to start dripping, you’re not wet enough.  It usually takes me about 1.5hrs to go through 5 gallons. 

Above is a photo from 3-weeks post treatment of 6-7ft tall shingle oaks.  They are thumb size diameter.  These woodies have been mowed for decades…literally.  So I worried that they have a massive root system and I could just top killing them or not give them enough herbicide to effectively kill them.  1-year post treatment, the trees are crispy dead, no signs of resprout. 

I know that it won’t be a silver bullet for us…but coupling fire, foliar spraying, basal barking, weed wiper, mowing…I hope to turn the tide against the woodies.

Wiper Applicators and Sponge Bars

Wiper applicators are devices that physically wipe appropriate amounts of this product directly onto the weed. Equipment must be designed, maintained and operated to prevent the herbicide solution from contacting desirable vegetation. Operate this equipment at ground speeds no greater than 5 miles per hour. Performance may be improved by reducing speed in areas of heavy weed infestations to ensure adequate wiper saturation. Better results may be obtained if 2 applications are made in opposite directions. Avoid leakage or dripping onto desirable vegetation. Adjust height of applicator to ensure adequate contact with weeds. Keep wiping surfaces clean. Be aware that, on sloping ground, the herbicide solution may migrate, causing dripping on the lower end and drying of the wicks on the upper end of a wiper applicator. Do not use wiper equipment when weeds are wet. Mix only the amount of solution to be used during a 1-day period, as reduced activity may result from the use of leftover solutions. Clean wiper parts immediately after using this product by thoroughly flushing with water. Nonionic surfactant at a rate of 10 percent by volume of total herbicide solution is recommended with all wiper applications.  Solutions ranging from 33 to 75 percent of this product in water may be used.

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Planting savanna by planting prairie first

By Bill Kleiman, Nachusa Grasslands, TNC

The photo above shows mostly bur oaks growing in a prairie restoration. We planted the bur oaks in 2006, but first we planted prairie in 2001. This makes the start of a savanna. The 2001 prairie planting was maturing and we decided to plant some acorns into the five year old prairie where it approached the oak woods so we would not have an abrupt prairie to oak woods edge. It worked. Those shrubs are all oaks, many bur oak. I know they are from the acorns we planted because we planted bur oak acorns and the oaks near the edge are black and white and northern red oak.

We burn this unit frequently and the nearest oak shrub shows a few stems that were top killed by fire. In another place on the preserve where we have frequent fire there is one or two small tree sized oak for every 100 oak shrubs. So frequent fire supports development of savanna. I bet these open savanna were a common sight a few centuries back.

Above photo is when I turn around and shoot the opposite direction which shows the old oak woods adjacent to this planting. Shagbark hickory, white oak, northern red oak. A cup plant in the foreground. There is very little oak recruitment in this woods in spite of a frequent fire regime.

Above is seasonal crew Stephanie in 2006. She and I used dibble bars to plant oak acorns. Bernie uses a tile probe with similar effect. I remember getting blisters on my hands as the soil of the new planting was hard and dry. A study on this same field by soil scientist Mike Konen showed that the soil became less dense about ten years after planting to prairie. It took at least five years to notice any oaks emerging.

Tile probe on left, dibble bar on right

Above is a later photo from a different planting of acorns. Our dibble bars in 2006 made just a small dent in the ground. I think we scuffed in the opening with our boots.

So to restore a savanna, try planting a prairie first, and burn it frequently.

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Philip Juras: Picturing the prairie. A vision of restoration

By Bill Kleiman

Philip Juras

Philip Juras is a landscape painter with a show at the Chicago Botanic Garden, ending September 12, 2021.  His new book is Picturing the Prairie.  A vision of restoration.  I had a recent discussion with Philip about the intersection of habitat restoration and his landscape paintings.  At bottom, check out the link to the show.  There is a nice short video on the Botanic Garden site.

Beaver Pond, Nachusa Grasslands, Illinois 2019, Oil on canvas, 30 by 54 in.

Beaver Pond, Nachusa Grasslands.  Bill Kleiman: I know this place. I have stumbled around in this foreground with a pack of herbicide spraying trefoil and sweet clover.   The powerlines that cut across this landscape are behind the painter. The beaver pond looked like that if you squatted down.  This summer the beaver moved down stream a quarter mile and their dam broke down here, so the pond is gone.  Those skies Philip paints are what we Midwesterners feel about our everchanging mountains of cloud. 

Nachusa Bison, Illinois 2021 Oil on canvas 24 by 36 in.

Philip tends to leave out powerlines, cars going by in the distant, humans and he sometimes extends the habitat further than what is there.  Of course, as we are working to restore habitats our imaginations do the same, thinking back in history to what was likely in our view, and what steps we could take that get us closer to that place where nature is thriving. 

Philip says he sometimes extends a landscape because he “can build onto what restoration has done to the landscape in the foreground in front of me.  It is a desire to see something, and experience something, that has not existed in my lifetime.”

“I know [these landscapes have] great quality and significance…and [they] also represent something wild and historic that I can’t otherwise experience.  So I wonder if those motivations that drive me are the ones that drive the restoration expert.” 

Late Afternoon on the Grand Prairie of Illinois c. 1491, 2019, Oil on canvas, 36 by 60 in.

Late Afternoon on the Grand Prairie of Illinois c.1491 Bill: This is a big painting at a width of five feet.   That current view would be perhaps a few acres of prairie surrounds by crops to the horizon.  I try to imagine what it was like before modern settlement.   In 1491, many Native American villages of various tribes would have been located along the rivers and in the oak groves. Such prairie landscapes that may appear daunting to us likely felt to them like a bonanza of tubers, berries, fruits, seeds, fibers and animals to harvest.     

Philip: “[The grand prairie] was written about in a celebratory way as well as being awed by and troubled by the setting they were in.  I was hoping to communicate that this historic landscape was not simple, straight forward, this was a rich and beautiful environment, but this was not an easy place to live in. I wanted to communicate the sense of isolation and lack of orientation.  These things that we have no idea about.”  

Shoe Factory Road Woods, Cook County, Illinois, 2020, Oil on canvas, 30 x 42 in.

Philip: “Something I noticed about restorations I have seen.  How much intent is incorporated in each one of them.  When I first started thinking about prairie restoration I thought it amounted to throwing seeds out and seeing what happens, but knowing what I know now, I see there is a great deal of intention, a great deal of science.   This is not something that just happens.   I went into this looking for something that was very natural and found something that was man made, in the historical landscape and in the contemporary landscape.”

“I got to know the tallgrass prairie in Illinois that were natural and wild, were in fact I was discovering a connection with people who were there a long time ago. I came into this to find nature and I got connected with culture.”

At the Chicago Botanic Garden through September 12, 2021 https://www.chicagobotanic.org/picturing_prairie

You can see many other works at his website. https://www.philipjuras.com/

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From Rags to Riches

By Bryon Walters

I have a corner in my prairie where a neighboring farm field drains through my center waterway. Sometimes I receive corn plants from the field, but for the past several years Giant Ragweed, Ambrosia trifida, has found a temporary home in the prairie. 

It is not feasible or wise to spray this large canopy weed because there are many nice prairie plants growing next to or under them. 

The best approach I like is the old fashioned clip method. With a sharp pair of shears I cut these tall weeds from the top down in sections, usually thirds or halves. I clip the few Mare’s tails also. Just leave the cut material lay there. They don’t grow back and I’ve observed less plants than last year. 

It took me less than 30 minutes to cut up several hundred various sized “rags”.

This is very rewarding work and I don’t have to worry about damaging nice plants. If you have a larger infestation, you could use a powered brush saw that has the three-blade cutting head on it. Although, you may accidentally cut things you don’t want to and the saw is difficult to maneuver in a tall, rich prairie. 

Either method is better than chemical treatment. 

Swamp Milkweed and Monarch approved.

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Transline control of yellow sweet clover

By Bill Kleiman

I have noticed with yellow sweet clover, Melilotus officinalis, that if I apply 1% Transline with a surfactant late in the bloom of yellow sweet clover that the clover appears to set some seed. We don’t want that. When I apply Garlon 3A or Crossbow the plants wilt and brown faster. I was curious to watch the progression of several marked yellow sweet clover that I treated on May 26, 2021. Here is one patch over time:

3 days later, May 29
9 days after, June 4
20 days after, June 15
42 days after, July 7

Lesson learned:

The Transline killed the yellow sweet clover, but I suggest treating plants early in bloom or before bloom is best.

Why use Transline? It works well on crown vetch and cow vetch. Some adult plants are resistant to Transline, such as the genus Lespedeza, so don’t use this for your L cuneata control.

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Birdsfoot trefoil miss

By Bill Kleiman

Nachusa Grasslands has a 20-acre prairie planting, number 91, http://www.nachusagrasslands.org/uploads/5/8/4/6/58466593/planting_91_-_2009_-_stone_barn_prairie_-_stone_barn_farm_unit_-_crew_-_c_considine.pdf that is coming along nicely with a thick cover of native plant diversity. But it also has about 100 birdsfoot trefoil, Lotus corniculatus, small patches of plants scattered throughout.

I used the little tractor above with its 50 gallon tank to drive transects back and forth across the planting to find the trefoil. I did not use the boomless tip but rather a hand nozzle where I can spray almost as exactly as a backpack sprayer can. The tractor is nice for this purpose because it is nimble, you sit higher than in a UTV, and it is easy to go slow and look.

JD9 spray gun

Why would I use a tractor instead of going on foot? I had about two hours to spare, the unit had not been burned so it was harder to walk through. The crew was busy with trefoil on another unit. So I loaded with 1 ounce per gallon Milestone (this is less than one percent and more than half percent) and non-ionic surfactant and drove slowly along.

My error, the miss, is that I should have done this work a week earlier because now about half the trefoil looked as above with seed pods forming. Those brown ones are full of seed mature enough to seed the ground. From experience, trefoil seeds last for a decade or two in the soil. This cohort of seeds will germinate not all at once, but they will emerge at various times in the summer and for many future summers. These are good traits for a plant picked to deal with heavy grazing.

Let us not dwell on why the Federal government is breeding this weed to be even more aggressive while also funding natural areas work to control it.

The trefoil got in there because a nearby degraded remnant has patches of trefoil. Likely deer and rabbits deposit seed in the planting.

I could not let the seed go. A few days later I went out three mornings in a row to re-locate the patches I sprayed (easy to do as I just followed the tractor tracks with my UTV). I tried clipping the plants with a scissors and I tried using a scythe to cut the entire plant, but I ended up concluding (with my daughter’s help) that simply tearing at the trefoil by hand worked fastest. I filled up 28 barrels with trefoil and added it to weed burn pile.

I also sprayed a bit of basal bark herbicide where the plants emerge for good measure. I covered this topic here: https://grasslandrestorationnetwork.org/tag/lotus-corniculatus/

This is one huge trefoil plant
I cut the one trefoil with the little saw and treated the “stump” with basal bark herbicide
After photo with the one trefoil removed.

Lesson learned: Don’t be late. Have a method to remind you where weeds are located. We use Field Maps (formerly Collector). Have a calendar warning. Don’t plant prairie into soils with weed issues. Don’t let legume weeds go to seed. If you create nice prairie plantings you won’t mind defending them from invasive weeds.

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Planting #117 a success

By Bill Kleiman

This 2015 planting at the Senger tract is awesome. 35 acres planted with 1,400 pounds of un-cleaned seed from 117 species.

Below are some photos looking down.

Above is purple milkwort (pink), western sunflower, wide leaved pussytoes, lance leaved coreopsis, rough blazing star, prairie cinquefoil, cream indigo. I found the milkwort several times walking a transect. Kudos to the crew who picked the little milkworts and the pussytoes. We pick from the end of May through Thanksgiving.

Above is western sunflower, wide leaved pussytoes, silky aster, hairy hawkweed, downy yellow painted cup, wild quinine, thimbleweed, lupine, showy goldenrod, dropseed, rattlesnake master, spidorwort, sheep sorrel (exotic).

Above is cream gentian, stiff aster, prairie coreopsis, wide leaved pussytoes, wild quinine, spidorwort, showy goldenrod, round headed bushclover, downy yellow painted cup, sheep sorrel, lower left grass I am not sure about.

Aove little flower is long leaved bluets, western sunflower, downy yellow painted cup.

Above is butterfly milkweed, hoary vervain, wild quinine, wide leaved pussytoes, hirsute penstemon, grass leaved goldenrod, cream indigo, showy goldenrod, spidorwort, little bluestem, western sunflower, silkey aster, lupine.

Above is the same planting but in the lower areas to the south.

How did we get these great results? We hired an awesome crew of Jocelyn F, Kaleb B, Jake H, Mikko H, Sandra V, Kim E, Leah K, Ryan B. They pursued seed most every day all summer and fall. See the full report at http://www.nachusagrasslands.org/uploads/5/8/4/6/58466593/planting_117_-_2015_-_senger-_senger_tract_-_crew_-_k_elsenbroek_.pdf

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