Allegheny Prairie: Design Challenge

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Design Challenge takes photos of tricky spots in people’s yards and puts them out there for advice from the professionals at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and from our broad audience of participants, some of whom have some serious wildlife gardening credentials (just check out our Featured Sites for proof).

The Details

Location: Allegheny County, Pennsylvania
Eco-Region: Eastern Broadleaf Forest Oceanic Province
Planting Zone: 6b
Learn more about this place by reading it’s Local Resources Page.

This three-tiered native garden is located near Pittsburgh, PA. The area was surrounded by a windbreak until a year ago when the trees had to be removed. This allows the space to get 6-8 hours of sun per day and as a result, the soil is dry and hard.


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Here you can see a raised bed behind a stone wall. There are Black-eyed Susans and Daylilies among the variety of perennials.


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There is a small pond and waterfall to the left, behind the ornamental grasses. The raised bed is on the right.


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There is a bricked layer in front of the raised bed with thyme planted along the wall but, with the grandchildren taking shortcuts across the thyme, it is not surviving well. The Sweetgum tree roots are lifting the bricks and causing a safety problem. The owners would like to transform this into something that is overall more pleasant to look at, deer resistant, and honeybee friendly (the owners are hobby bee keepers).

Cornell Says:
The newly open space and existing soil conditions make for a great opportunity to add multiple tall perennial wildflowers that will encourage pollinators. There are a range of prairie plants that would be perfect for bees and butterflies in this type of habitat. Start with Common yarrow (Achillea millefolium) and a bunch of Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa) to add blooms and pollinator power from spring through summer. Mix in a section of Showy tick trefoil (Desmodium canadense) and Bluebell bellflower (Campanula rotundifolia) with the existing Rudbeckia for a host of color through the fall.

For the health of the tree, remove bricks from the root zone and plant around the base with shade tolerant plants like Foxglove beardtongue (Foxglove beardtongue) and Wild lupine (Lupinus perennis) to encourage visiting invertebrates.

To our readers: What other native perennials for pollinators would you suggest adding into the mix? How about the herb garden space? Any tips for the pond area? What have you done in similar situations?

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