The Iowa Department of Transportation is returning to the past to manage the ditches along its modern roadways. D-O-T roadside coordinator Steve Holland says they’ve been planting 20 varieties of wildflowers and five varieties of prairie grasses along the roadways. The native plants help reduce the need for maintenance and slow the flow of water runoff. Holland says the native prairie plants are a natural for controlling and beautifying Iowa’s roadways. The plants grow up and shade out the weeds, reducing the amount of mowing needed. Holland says finding the wild seed was a problem when the program started a decade ago, but more and more producers have stepped up to meet the demand. Holland says one of the biggest keys to implementing the wild prairie seedings is patience as most of the growth in the first year is underground, so there’s still weeds growing up and it doesn’t look that good. But, by the second and third year the prairie plants are more established. Prairie fires burned off the grasses and burned out the invasive plants back before settlers took over the Iowa landscape. Holland says burns are still done, but there are alternatives. They can mow off the prairie grasses and use it as mulch in an alternative to burning. Holland says they’d like to have all the roadsides converted to native prairie grasses within the next five years.
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