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Are Prairie Mixes the only Option for Crop Field Borders?

Are Prairie Mixes the only Option for Crop Field Borders?

By Kaine Korzekwa

Planting beneficial plants next to gardens and crop fields large and small has been a standard practice for decades, even centuries. The plants provide what are known as ecosystem services. These include attracting pollinators and preventing weeds.

In the grassland regions of North America, prairie mixtures are thought to be the best at providing these services. However, the quality of some of the services they provide can be unpredictable. This is because it is difficult to tell exactly which plants in the mix will grow well.

Ebony Murrell and her team decided to test five perennial grains as alternatives to a nine-species prairie mix. They studied Kernza, silflower, cup plant, sainfoin, and alfalfa.

Murrell presented this research at the 2021 ASA-CSSA-SSSA Annual Meeting held in Salt Lake City, UT.

They looked at five different ecosystem services. These included how many and what kind of pollinators the plants attracted, as well as biomass production, weed suppression, and forage quality.

The specific characteristics of a plant can make it better or worse at providing certain . For example, the shape and color of a flower can be more attractive to local pollinators. Or a plant can produce a lot of roots near the soil surface that prevent weeds from growing. Large leaves of a species like cup plant may also shade out weeds.

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