Technical Sources


Pollinators Need Your Help

Pollinators around the world are in decline and this has important ramifications for human life. Approximately 75% of flowering plants require pollinators to set seed or fruit, and from these plants comes one-third of the world’s food (Xerces, 2011)

Pollinators are primarily insects but birds and bats can also pollinate plants. In Wisconsin, bees, flies, wasps, butterflies, moths, beetles, ants and even hummingbirds readily pollinate both native and non-native plants. Generally, the most effective of these are the bees. Unfortunately, we have seen a significant decline in the population of these amazing creatures. Food plants such as apples, cucumbers, squashes, tomatoes, cherries, raspberries and many others require pollination by insects. Otherwise, they will not bear fruit.

The honeybee (Apis mellifera) is the most common non-native bee use for pollination of crop plants. This bee is easily reared and transported, and a single colony can attain a size of 50,000 or more individuals. The blue orchard bee (Osmia lignaria), also referred to as the mason orchard bee, is a native managed pollinator for orchards. Just 250 of these bees (as opposed to 20,000 honeybees) can pollinate an acre of apple trees (Stewart, 2012).

There are approximately 400 species of bees in Wisconsin. Most are inconspicuous and harmless and many remain unidentified even today. This includes miner bees, mason bees, leafcutter bees, and sweat bees among many others. These pollinators as well as the butterflies, moths and wasps mentioned above may concentrate on only a few native plant species while others are generalists.

Landowners can support native pollinators in three key ways:

  • Plant native plants
  • Eliminate pesticides to the extent possible
  • Providing nesting sites

Plant Native Plants
By installing a diverse array of native plants, you will be creating an ecosystem that supports many beneficial insects as well as animals and birds. The larger the area and the more diverse the planting in terms of flowering species, the better it will support an equally diverse and healthy population of pollinators. Plants that are especially good for bees include

  • wild lupine
  • anise hyssop
  • purple prairie clover
  • penstemons
  • mountain mint
  • pale purple coneflower
  • wild bergamot
  • Culver’s root
  • butterfly and common milkweed
  • native sunflowers
  • prairie blazing star
  • great blue lobelia
  • goldenrods
  • asters
  • berry bushes of all kinds
  • linden and black cherry trees

Most of the above species are found in prairies and savannas with a few found in woodlands. A comprehensive approach to restoring ecological health will greatly benefit pollinators.

Eliminate Pesticides
Herbicides do not target insects, birds or animals. However, the long term effects of many herbicides are simply not known. Insecticides, obviously, can harm non-target species. The combination of multiple pesticides in the environment has unknown consequences, but has been blamed for the collapse of honey bee colonies. There are times when pesticides are the only option, but overall they should be used sparingly and in accordance with labeled instructions only when necessary. It may seem counter-intuitive for a company that provides herbicide application services to recommend against their use. However, they are often necessary in the early stages of ecological restoration. In later stages, properly managed prairies, savannas, and woodlands should require little if any pesticide application.

Providing nesting sites
Most bees nest underground, digging their own tunnels or utilizing the burrows of small mammals. Other bee species nest in brush piles, dense clumps of grass, or tree cavities. In other words, a carefully manicured and “clean” landscape is not necessarily the best habitat for pollinators.

Provide natural nesting habitat for bees by leaving dead trees in place when possible. When trimming plants and shrubs, leave stems somewhere on your property as many will have bee larvae in them. Do not mulch all areas of your yard; keep bare areas of ground for use by ground-nesting bees. Practice no-till methods in your vegetable garden (i.e., try not to dig or turn the soil) to allow bee larvae that are underground to develop into adult bees. You also can make or purchase artificial nests that will attract various species of bees such as mason bees, leafcutter bees and yellow-faced bees (Stewart, 2012).

Call Midwest Prairies, LLC to find out how you can help pollinators by restoring Wisconsin’s beautiful and diverse native habitats!

Stewart, Christy (2012). Polinators. University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension
The Xerces Society (2011). Attracting Native Pollinators, Storey Publishing, LLC

Reed Canary Grass Management Guide


Reed canary grass is a threat to the ecological integrity of countless wetlands across Wisconsin. However, with a very thoughtful and carefully timed approach to eradication, it can be controlled. This most often requires theapplication of herbicides.

This downloadable guide published by the Wisconsin Reed Canary Grass Management Working Group in 2009 and entitledReed Canary Grass (Phalaris arundinacea) Management Guide: Recommendations for Landowners and Restoration Professionals walks you through the steps you can take to manage reed canary grass. It provides a template for local-scale RCG abatement, and it summarizes our current understanding of invasion biology and management tactics for RCG.

What is the impact of RCG?
Reed canary grass is an invasive species that was originally planted for forage. In fact, it continues to be planted in some places despite its profound effect on native plant communities. While it is a native of Europe, it is also commonly thought to be native to parts of North America as well. However, the species has been cultivated for desirable characteristics such as aggressiveness and fast growth and these cultivated varieties have escaped becoming the invasive species we see today.

Reed canary grass thrives in a high nitrogen, high turbidity environment. In areas where water is clear and nutrients are low and the native plant community is well established, natives can often hold their own. Unfortunately, the streams, lakes, and wetlands of southern Wisconsin usually contain water that is perfect for reed canary grass. The grass has strong and aggressive rhizomes and also produces significant quantities of seed. This allows it to invade just about any environment where moist soil is present. However, it will also grow in uplands especially where nutrients are high.

Invasion by reed canary grass greatly reduces botanical and biological diversity of a wetland. Eventually, a wetland dominated by reed canary will be almost uniformly made up of that species. It is even capable of limiting tree regeneration in riparian forests. To quote the guide referenced above, reed canary grass “decreases retention time of nutrients and carbon stored in wetlands, accelerating turnover cycles and reducing the carbon sequestration capabilities characteristic of diverse plant communities. Although its effects on wildlife are not yet entirely clear, preliminary data suggest that habitat specialist species (including several listed and protected species) are more adversely affected by reed canary grass dominance than habitat generalists.”

Whitetail Deer management Practices


Like all living things, deer have three fundamental priorities: food, shelter, and water. Understanding the needs of deer in this regard is the first step to developing prime habitat for them. However, managing for one species at the expense of others is neither recommended nor wise. By understanding the needs of many wild animals and by taking an approach that will encourage diversity, the land can support a host of creatures that will add to the enjoyment of people as well. Fortunately, most practices that encourage white-tailed deer also add to the health and diversity of the landscape. Many people in suburban areas understand that too many deer can be a huge problem. Too many deer means deer suffer from malnutrition and many other health problems. This can also affect people in negative ways such as car accidents, tick infestations, and destruction of property. Therefore, the tools in this paper should only be used to encourage a healthy deer population to flourish.

Food Through the Seasons
Deer eat a wide variety of plant parts. It is commonly known that deer are browsers, often nipping off the buds of newly planted shrubs in yards. But, deer only resort to browsing when more palatable vegetation is not available. They prefer the leaves of many shrubs and trees as well as sedges, clovers, and wildflowers. Acorns are perhaps their favorite food (Whitetails Unlimited, 1998). They will eat grasses, but generally prefer other plants.

by taking an approach that will encourage diversity, the land can support a host of creatures

In spring, deer move out of winter cover in search of early greens. They will eat new green buds of trees and shrubs as well as grasses and leaves. Through the summer months they continue to eat plants such as sedges, asters, clovers, alfalfa, sumac, goldenrod, bush honeysuckle, jewelweed and various shrub and tree leaves. Preferred food plants are found along forest edges and in open-growing forests. In the fall, deer turn to mast (acorns and other nuts). The fall is critical to deer as they eat these high-energy foods that will sustain them through the winter. Through the winter months, they will browse on dogwood, sumac, and willow or dormant or dried plant material on the ground if snow cover allows.

While food plots have a place in providing for a deer’s needs, they are often used as a substitute for proper deer habitat management. Food plots only provide for one of the animal’s core needs and usually only for a portion of the year. In addition, proper design and farming practices are important to consider. It is not always as simple as just planting some corn.

Food for white-tailed deer is best addressed by large-scale management of the plant communities where deer live. The key to producing food is in creating diverse native plant communities. In most situations, the need for food plots to supplement deer nutrition, regardless of all of the media attention, should only be addressed after the manager is satisfied that the native plant communities are encouraged and maintained and deer densities are maintained at levels that the habitat can support. Only then do food plots occasionally have a place in deer nutrition management, depending on the manager’s goals. (Stevens, 2004)

Deer prefer beds in locations where they are protected on one or more sides: under a large tree, behind a downed log, or near a pile of brush. They will bed in taller grasses and in drier locations in marshes. Deer will maintain several beds and may choose a particular bed based on weather, threats, or other considerations. So, diversity in cover types is useful.

Deer get much of the water they need from the food they eat. Still, they will often drink at streams or ponds, especially in warmer weather, so a source of water is important.

Habitat Management Considerations
The biggest threat to habitat quality in southern Wisconsin is buckthorn. Buckthorn is an aggressive European species that invades woodlands. Along with exotic honeysuckle, it is the first to leaf out in spring and the last to drop leaves in the fall. As a result it initially shades out ground covers like sedges and wildflowers. As it takes over, native shrubs and young trees will be affected. Eventually, regeneration of oaks and hickories will be greatly disrupted. As the mature oaks die, there will be no young oaks to succeed them and eventually the woodland will revert to a brushy wasteland dominated by buckthorn, honeysuckle and a few straggling elms, box elder, and cherry.

Deer typically do not use buckthorn woods for cover because of the lack of ground cover. While a buckthorn thicket may look dense to us, to a coyote, it looks like an umbrella. Under the canopy is bare soil. Deer make very little use of buckthorn for food as it is generally unpalatable (Loos, 2013).

Deer thrive in a diverse landscape surrounding a forest matrix. In southern Wisconsin, the criteria are as follows:

  • Open oak woods with healthy ground covers and multiple age classes of trees and native shrubs
  • Adjacent meadows or openings with legumes and wildflowers
  • Brushy thickets of native shrubs and young trees and away from roads and along the edges between forest and meadow
  • Areas of tall grasses.

Therefore, a well-managed property will ensure that these structural elements exist in some form. On a given property, it may be possible to identify areas that provide different needs which already exist. It is equally likely that developing good habitat will require an active approach of planting trees and shrubs, eliminating invasive species, and introducing prescribed fire.

As the mature oaks die, there will be no young oaks to succeed them and eventually the woodland will revert to a brushy wasteland dominated by buckthorn

The oaks are the cornerstone species in southern Wisconsin. While the ancient giant white and burr oaks that are found throughout the region are beautiful to behold, the landowner should look more carefully. Are there young oaks present? Or, do you see buckthorn, box elder, cherry and elm growing in the understory? If young oaks are not present, your forest is on a negative long term trajectory. It is possible to bring an oak forest back to a healthy state, but it requires time and attention and the skills of a talented professional.

In a healthy oak woodland, deer find shelter and food. The oaks create the matrix around which a property owner can establish openings, meadows, prairies and food plots. An unhealthy woodland will provide poor cover and little food. Meadows, prairies, and food plots will not be attractive to deer without the woodland matrix.


Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (web brochure)
Managing Your Woodland For White Tailed Deer

Loos, Ralph (10/16/2013). Outdoor News.
Deer presence could be altered by common shrub

Stevens, Russel (9/2004). The Samuel Roberts Nobel Foundation (web article).
Think before planting food plots

Whitetails Unlimited (1998). Brochure.
Forest management for white-tailed deer.

Contact Midwest Prairies to learn more about creating wildlife habitat

BuckThorn Removal


Among the many threats to eastern forests is Buckthorn. In many ways Buckthorn is the most insidious of threats. It does not kill Oak trees the way Oak wilt does. It does not out-compete the Oaks for sunlight like Black Cherry or Box Elder might. Instead, it stops the reproductive cycle while eliminating other less obvious native species such as sedge and woodland wildflowers, often replacing them with pure stands of Buckthorn.

Buckthorn is comprised of two species in southern Wisconsin, glossy and common. Glossy Buckthorn typically grows in wetter areas and common grows almost everywhere else. Both species were introduced from Europe as landscape shrubs. In Europe, they tend to be fairly inconspicuous. In this country however, they have some distinct advantages over the native species with which they compete. Along with invasive honeysuckle, they are the first plants to leaf out in the spring. Ordinarily, Oaks leaf out in early May giving the spring wildflowers ample time to grow, bloom and set seed. When Buckthorn takes over, these plants are quickly shaded out.

Buckthorn is the most insidious of threats

Buckthorn also seems to have an allelopathic effect. Studies have shown that germination of native species is significantly reduced when Buckthorn leaf litter is present, suggesting a chemical in the leaves is the cause. As Buckthorn begins to dominate, many other species disappear. As it takes over, native shrubs and young trees will be affected. Eventually, regeneration of Oaks and Hickories will be greatly disrupted. As the mature Oaks die, there will be no young Oaks to succeed them and eventually the woodland will revert to a brush wasteland dominated by Buckthorn, Honeysuckle and a few straggling Elms, Box Elder, and Cherry.

Wildlife such as deer and songbirds typically do not use Buckthorn-dominated woods for various reasons. While a Buckthorn thicket may look dense and healthy to us, to a coyote it looks like an umbrella. Under the canopy is bare soil. Deer make very little use of Buckthorn for food as it is generally unpalatable. Only a few species of bird are known to nest in Buckthorn.

Wildlife such as deer and song birds typically do not use a Buckthorn-dominated woods

Luckily, several techniques have been developed in the restoration industry to push back the invasion of Buckthorn. The first step is to remove or kill it. This can be done in several ways. Hand removal with a root wrench is the most labor-intensive, but has the benefit of not requiring herbicide application. It can be cut with a chain saw, piled and burned. After cutting, an appropriate herbicide, usually containing Triclopyr, can be applied to the stump. This also is very labor intensive, but very effective especially in less dense infestations where workers can move around more easily. It is also possible to kill Buckthorn where it stands by applying herbicide to the bark. This however, has the obvious disadvantages that come with having possibly hundreds of small trees to deal with.

The most effective method for larger scale and fairly dense infestations (greater than 1 acre or so) is to use a forestry mower. These machines quickly cut and shred Buckthorn leaving only wood chips and sticks behind. After the Buckthorn re-sprouts it can be sprayed with a Triclopyr-based herbicide. This will result in a very dramatic and quick reduction of Buckthorn density. It may also be necessary to remove other trees and shrubs, including native trees such as Black Cherry, Box Elder, Ash and Elm if too much shade still remains.

The end result can be quite stunning

Once the Buckthorn is removed it is critical that native ground cover vegetation be restored. Otherwise, Buckthorn and many other weeds will quickly re-colonize. In some cases, native ground covers may be present and may come back on their own. In other cases, installation of native woodland grass and sedge seed is the quickest route. If broadcast in the fall, germination is usually pretty reliable in the spring. But the following spring, you may have enough fuel to conduct a prescribed burn.

Fire is an essential tool for maintenance of all woodlands, savannas, and prairies in southern Wisconsin. For thousands of years our native ecosystems developed adaptations to fire. Without occasionally prescribed burning, these native plants cannot thrive. Buckthorn seedlings will not tolerate fire. And once native ground covers become established, keeping Buckthorn at bay is relatively easy.

After a few years of burning and killing any Buckthorn that survived initial efforts, native wildflowers can be introduced. The end result can be quite stunning in its beauty, diversity, and habitat value.

a great blue heron in it's natural habitat

Restoring the habitats and ecosystems of southern Wisconsin

We work with private land owners, park districts, state agencies, and others who wish to bring about a land restoration and enhance the environment.