Garden with a prairie effect from plants.

How to Create a Prairie Effect in Your Garden

Popularized by Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf, prairie planting designs use dramatic swathes of grasses alongside perennials that have a strong structure in winter. Particularly suitable for larger gardens, these borders are often at their most beautiful in autumn and winter, a time when many perennial beds are lackluster and dull.

When to plant: Spring or autumn.

At their best: Late summer to early winter.

Time to complete: 4 hours.

You will need: Well-rotted organic matter – such as manure, horticultural grit for clay soils.

Selection of plants to use: Deschampsia cespitosa, Sedum spectabile, Echinacea purpurea ‘Rubinstern’, Lythrum virgatum, Eupatorium.


It is important to dig over the soil thoroughly and incorporate plenty of organic matter, such as well-rotted manure, before you start planting. This style of gardening uses groups of plants that enjoy similar well-drained but moist soil, so you will also have to incorporate grit into heavy clay soil.

Planting layout

The prairie planting style uses interlocking swathes of plants, with each swathe comprising just one species or type of plant. To create this effect, you will need lots of plants, so buy young ones to minimize costs. If you have a small garden, follow the same rules for larger plots but reduce the number of different species used. Set your plants out in teardrop-shaped swathes, with the narrow sections neatly slotting together.

Cut back in spring

This border is designed to look good all winter long, so you must resist the temptation to cut it all back or neaten it too much in autumn. Most cutting back can be left until early spring, when new shoots appear at the base of the plants. If some areas start to look really messy, neaten stray stems earlier.