Michael: Pocket Prairies Come to Life in Austin

3 Pocket Prairies, 3 Different Approaches

Bringing a slice of wild to our homes is more than just a trend – it’s a conscious effort to restore biodiversity and patch together our fragmented urban landscapes. These miniaturized prairie ecosystems can offer a kaleidoscope of native plants and flowers, attracting diverse urban wildlife while requiring minimal maintenance. Our three principals at Studio Balcones have each created their own personal pocket prairies with their own distinct approaches. You can learn more about pocket prairies and their benefits through our previous post here. View can also view Ilse’s Pocket Prairie here and Jennifer’s Pocket Prairie here!

Today, we’re interviewing Michael about his experience creating a personal pocket prairie at his home. 

When did you move into your home?

Going on five years ago, in 2017. It was all bermudagrass and fire ants then! 

michael and his partner stand proudly in front of their new home

What inspired you to plant a pocket prairie?

It was a pretty immediate decision, we planted one right after we moved it. I honestly just didn’t want to buy a lawn mower.

What was your process/what steps did you take? 

First things first, the first two seasons were heavy on by-hand establishment and maintenance. We had to scalp mow and till our yard several times in the summer, hand sow seeds in the fall, and to do a second, overseeding in the spring. We heavily weeded, watered and cut back overcrowded wildflowers by hand those first two summers but we didn’t touch it that third summer. We haven’t watered anything since! And, of course, no mow required. 

michael's pocket prairie in 2019
michael's pocket prairie in 2020

What plants did you focus on planting (seed mix? plugs? potted plants?)

We only used a seed mix at first, then selectively planted a few rooted perennials, grasses, and shrubs to fill out any spots we had. To protect the soil from erosion in the winter, our seed mix included winter annual rye – a cool season cover crop – and I didn’t cut it back. I just let everything grow through it in the spring. 

michael's pocket prairie in 2021 under snow
michael's pocket prairie recovered from snow in 2023

What is your maintenance plan?

When everything turns crunchy in the mid/late summer, we go out with our boots and crunch it up. Once every 18 months, we also reseed, usually in the Fall. And I keep my eye on what tries to sneak its way in – bermuda at the edges, johnsongrass, and woody seedlings before they turn to saplings (mostly Cedar Elm and Hackberry). We rarely remove vegetation or biomass from the yard – best to leave your future soil in place! 

How much do you water in the hottest months of the year?

None, except for trees that need it once or twice a month

Least favorite part of having a prairie at your house?

We get a lot of drive-by solicitations for lawn mowing companies, pest control too. 

Favorite part of having a prairie at your house?

We incorporated a rock pile into our prairie, near the front steps of the house. It now serves as lizard habitat for 4-5 species. We see them every day and they don’t even run away from us anymore. Pearl the squirrel and her boyfriend Earl really like the sunflowers, so when they are ready to seed, we lay them down in the yard so Pearl and Earl can have their fill. So I would say my favorite part are the little stories it’s the backdrop for and, of course, no mower, no mowing, and no watering for us! 

baby happy in front of michael's pocket prairie in 2022
toddler happy in front of michael's pocket prairie in 2022