Beyond your backyard: Getting back to your roots

This is the first June I can remember living in Minnesota that my grass is already brown and dead in the boulevard (yes, I am one of those people who refuses to water unless you’re a newly planted native plant—then you get VIP treatment). I’m not one bit mad about it because mowing is high on my list of least favorite chores—I really hate mowing. Dead turfgrass is a win!! But you know what isn’t dead? Those beautiful native prairie plants that can only be described as thriving! We recently visited an amazing native prairie at the Klossner cemetery and it was alive with color of blooming wildflowers and brilliant green grasses and sedges. When it comes to drought and heat, prairies do it best. And it’s no wonder, this is what they’re designed to do: be resilient to weather extremes.

What’s their secret? Big, beautiful, biota-full underground soil ecosystems complete with prairie roots. When we talk about getting back to our roots, prairies do it better than anyone else. With rooting depths of 14’ or greater (that’s almost 3 Megan’s tall) and a huge amount of biomass creating horizontal and vertical structure in the soil there’s a lot going on underground (more on that next time)!

Here’s a fun competition for you, if you’re up for it, go out to your yard and dig up just a tiny bit of sod. Now if you’re really playing this game to win, go try to dig up a big bluestem (preferably in a planting or restoration NOT in a native prairie). My guess is that patch of sod would be rolled up before you are even able to find the lower rooting depth of the bluestem! Prairies will win this competition every time! They know their roots. And of course they do, when they’re the originals at soil health, flood control, water infiltration, water storage, and trapping sediment and nutrients so they don’t run off!

That’s why so many regenerative agriculture models are based off of the prairie—how it’s built, how it functions, and its amazing ability to be resilient. There’s a lot you can learn from the prairie. How will you apply those lessons at home and on the farm?

For an incredible look at prairie roots check out Jim Richardson’s photography in this National Geographic piece: Digging deep reveals the intricate world of roots.

Photos: Megan Benage, Klossner Cemetery