Prairie Borders are inspired by the vast prairies and horizons of the American plains. This natural design style is known as prairie planting. It uses bold plants and color blocks. Allow groups to self-seed and colonize. Enriched with insect pollen and follows a very natural flow. In this article, Savana will show you how easy it is to achieve this in the smallest of gardens.

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What is Prairie Planting?

The easiest way to think about prairie boundaries is to see that they originated in the United States. If you imagine being slapped in the middle of a map of America, then you are on the Great Plains of America. Large tracts of land hundreds of years ago were covered with grasses, flowers and other plants. This was before humans started using it for infrastructure. There, nature creates subdued colors and shapes, as plants self-sow in large tracts of land. In prairie planting, your goal is to try to create this natural flow of plants. You are using a unique set of plants and grasses. Forget about this and that. On the prairie border, you limit the number of species and increase the amount of planting.

Where to position prairie borders

Grassland plantings require full sun due to the types of plants typically used. That's not to say some dappled shades aren't allowed. However, if you want the height of grasses like Miscanthus or Vanilla, these grasses will only grow in full sun. If not, they'll either just grow a large, low-slung foliage, or they'll start leaning toward the light source.

How to plant a prairie border

1. Choose the Planting palette. In a small garden right now, for mass effect, you'll probably see 7-10 plants at most. In larger herbaceous borders, you can choose from 20 or 30 plants. It depends on size. Watching my video above might help you get an idea of how much your garden might need as a comparison.

2. Remove weeds and debris and prepare the soil. If it hasn't been tilled in a while, or has become compacted, you'll need to dig it out. For prairie boundaries, the soil needs to drain freely. If you're dealing with heavy clay, you may need to rethink your plans. Or dig in a lot of organic matter to break it down. Grassland plants (such as grasses) and herbaceous plants (such as echinacea) require free-draining soil for their origin.

3. Arrange your plants in blocks or drifts. First, group them into at least 3 or 5. Depending on their eventual growth, make sure there is enough space so they don't suffocate each other. Remember: this is mass effect planting, so even if it feels weird to put so many people in one group, trust me, it will work!

4. Layer the border by using taller plants like grass in the back and small specimens in the front. Don't be put off by breaking this rule now and then, especially if you have the space. Then you can intrigue about "what's behind it?"

5. Group the colors, and repeat. You can happily use different varieties of the same species for slightly different shades of the same color.

6. Add some height with a tree or shrub. Grassland borders need more than just herbs. Why not add some scale and proportion to your border by adding a small tree or shrub. Fast growing trees add height nicely without taking up too much border space. They also provide structure during the months when the garden is cut, usually March-April.

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Best Plants for a Prairie Border

When it comes to prairie border plants, there are no real hard and fast rules. The best way to choose plants is to go back to imagining what the Great Plains are made of. Large expanses of grass and pollen-rich self-seeding herbs. The plants have an almost translucent airy quality. Without a dense cover or to block light, often bordered with evergreen shrubs. Each area planted will have a transparent nature, allowing other layers to be seen.

The layers will also have multiple heights. Therefore, you need a mix of grass height and herbaceous quality. Here are some of the best herbs for the prairie border.

Grasses for a prairie border

  • Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foester’
  • Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning light’
  • Stipa gigantea
  • Molinia caerulea
  • Deschampsia caespitosa
  • Pennisetum oriental ‘Karly Rose’
  • Carex

Herbaceous flowering prairie plants

  • Echinacea
  • Achillea
  • Heleniums (Sneezeweed)
  • Phlox
  • Monarda (Smells of Earl Grey tea!)
  • Asters (Daisy-like flowers)
  • Rudbeckia
  • Salvia (Spires and spikey forms)
  • Verbascum
  • Veronicastrum

Why prairie planting is low maintenance

If you're short on time and don't want to have to cut and weed every other night, prairie planting is a great option. Since the borders of the savannah are heavily planted, many plants should be able to support themselves.

Since prairie plantings consist of herbaceous perennials, they return each year. This means you can leave them after they bloom during the winter months. Grass will crisp to give borders real texture, and herbs will leave seed heads that are an excellent food source for birds and wildlife. Yes, some may look a bit tattooed, but you can simply cut them out, or just let them go!

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When to cut back prairie borders

Maintenance couldn't be easier with this approach. The only month of the year that really requires effort is February. February you might say! This is the perfect time to bring things back to reality. Grass can be cut with a pair of sharp scissors.


Prairie-style plantings are both high-impact and relatively low-maintenance in the garden. If you have free-draining soil with fair access to sunlight, you can create a super dramatic border. You have an exciting array of plants to choose from, some of which are direct descendants of the American prairie border, such as sedges. If you can resist the urge to choose too many species! The borders of the savannah provide food for bees and insects all summer while displaying a dazzling display of color. Even in the winter months, the frontier still puts on drama with its skeleton stems and dry seed heads. Imagine the photo opportunities when the neighboring gardens look desolate and barren!

December 22, 2022

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