Volunteers plant flowers along the BeltLine Eastside Trail Arboretum. (Photo courtesy of JustBerg Photography)

By Bethany Clark
Trees Atlanta

Trees Atlanta has spent the last four months planting a native grass and wildflower prairie on the Eastside Trail as part of the Atlanta BeltLine Arboretum. This major undertaking has resulted in more than 109,000 grass plugs and wildflowers planted with the help of hundreds of volunteers.

Choosing a native plant selection means that the prairie, once it’s established, with take care of itself a lot better than other lawn-type groundcovers, requiring less fuel, water and pesticides.

It will also bring a beautiful aesthetic to the area, create a unique sense of place, and become a much-needed source of nesting sites, food, and protection for birds, butterflies, bees, and more.

Brian Williams, Trees Atlanta’s forest restoration coordinator, managed the installation of the native grass prairie and wants to help everyone understand the project, from the site to the weeds. Here are some of this thoughts on the project:

  • This project is a restoration project, similar to the forest restoration projects Trees Atlanta does when planting trees. The area along the Eastside Trail was a damaged urban ecosystem, with lots of manmade disturbance, invasive plants, and poor or nonexistent topsoils. This means that ecological recovery will be a gradual process, and each growing season will look better than the last. So in terms of how the prairie is developing, patience is key.
  • The native grasses and wildflowers are in place and, most importantly, they are growing root systems. These root systems will build the soil, prevent erosion, absorb stormwater and bolster the natives during times of drought; and while these ecosystem functions may not be flashy and visible right now, the ornamental aspect of the plantings will improve and become more visible as time goes on.
  • The native grasses and wildflowers are producing seed this year, which will result in seedlings next year, which will go a long way in tipping the balance of “weeds vs. natives” more toward natives. Our weed control efforts this year have been weighted toward reduction in weed seed vectors for next growing season – mowing high to reduce flowering, controlling weeds outside the construction perimeter to reduce external pressure, and specifically targeting the most pernicious weeds like johnsongrass, kudzu and ragweed.

It helps to remember that this prairie project is an organic process, not a manmade construct like a building or a road; the process is a living thing. We want the public to understand and become engaged in the progression toward a healthy grassland along the Atlanta BeltLine Arboretum. The result will be very, very beautiful.

For more about Trees Atlanta and its projects around the city, visit treesatlanta.org.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.

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