Prairie Revival Nursery rolls out instant welcome mat for pollinators
By Nick Wood
DE PERE — While growing in the protection of a greenhouse, the native prairie sod that Andy Gilsdorf has developed is a vibrant and blooming 60-foot-long carpet of pollinator-friendly native flowers and grasses.
But Gilsdorf’s idea, now in its second year, is not to put on a show in the greenhouse; rather, it is to roll it up like sod and send it out into the real world where it can outcompete weeds and jumpstart a native prairie that provides pollinators with an almost-instant refuge.
“Native sod is what I call it,” Gilsdorf said. “The goal is to create a solid root mass so that when you go and lay it down in the landscape, the weeds don’t have a chance to compete with it.”
Gilsdorf said you still have to clear the vegetation beneath, but nothing like the soil preparation and babysitting you’d have to do to start a planting from seed.
“You just roll it out, water it a couple times, and in a couple of years it will be a fully established prairie,” Gilsdorf said.
Gilsdorf said there are nearly 50 native plants in the mix, including a lot of seeds that still need the cold shock of winter, so wherever you plant it something will thrive.
“You’ll have plants growing the first year, all the way through the year, and then the second year, there are seeds that are dormant in the soil that need a cold stratification like a winter in order to activate,” he said. “So next year, it’ll actually just become more diverse as those seeds get activated and they’ll germinate next spring. It’s a product that just keeps getting better year after year.”
Gilsdorf said he makes sure there’s a good variety of plants that will do well in most conditions. At the same time, each patch of sod will turn out different over the years depending on those conditions.
“What becomes dominant could change with just two hours less sun a day in one location or just a touch more moisture on the other side of the yard,” he said. “The bigger of an area that you plant, the more pronounced that gets to the point where you can kind of tell where the water settles in a field or what plants are growing in a big mass – so that’s kind of fun.”
But you don’t need a big space to take advantage of native sod.
“If you just have a little corner — a tree died or something — and you just want to fill that in and make a little pollinator habitat, you don’t need to turn your whole yard into natives in order to utilize a little chunk of this to help the native wildlife. It’s just a great way to speed up the process.”
Gilsdorf, who’s full-time job is with the Department of Natural Resources, started his business called Prairie Revival Nursery last year with an idea to use the leftover seeds that don’t make it into pots for commercial greenhouses.
He approached Justin Kroening at Stone Silo Prairie Gardens in De Pere with an idea to volunteer in exchange for leftover seeds.
“He said that he couldn’t do that, but he’d hire me and we’d work it out.”
So Gilsdorf started working part-time at the garden and got the opportunity to do a trial run in one of the greenhouses.
That test worked well, so this year he rented his own greenhouse in Pulaski and did his first planting in May.
But the new greenhouse had some quirks.
“I seeded it for the first time in early May, but then there were a couple of temperature mishaps,” he said. “I set the thermometer to what I wanted to open the vents and it turns out that it’s not accurate — not within 30 or 40 degrees — so I walked in and it was 120 degrees and I had just cooked everything.”
Round two he thought he had it dialed in, but one cloudless 90-degree day in late May sunburned all the plants.
“I was in there twice a day watering trying to try to keep it cool. And it just couldn’t stay ahead of it,” he said.
It wasn’t until June that he finally got this year’s batch planted.
It went on sale earlier this month.
He ended up growing about 600 square feet of the sod, and he sells it for $10 per square foot.
Currently Gilsdorf has two varieties of native sod: one composed of native flowers that will grow into a stand up to 12 feet tall, and one composed of shorter prairie grasses to keep things a little tidier for in town.
Next year he hopes to do custom plantings based on what customers want, whether it’s a mass of one specific color, or a low border, or dry or wet conditions.
“The goal is just to make the process easier, so that you don’t have to do years of work to get established and you don’t have to figure out what kind of soil you have and what kind of light you have and what kind of water regime you have. This is kind of the way to hedge your bets and it takes all the research out of it.”
For more information, find Prairie Revival Nursery on facebook or email Gilsdorf at [email protected]