Big Bluestem,      photo credit: Jennifer Anderson @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database

Beating the Heat

Whenever JL Draganic hears a bird sing “bobwhite” early in the morning, he can’t help but smile. It’s proof that his conservation measures are helping bring back the bobwhite quail, a native Ohio bird, to Fayette County. At the same time, he is helping protect the county’s waterways and land.

Like many farmers across Ohio, Draganic and his family are planting native Ohio plants and warm-season grasses that have many benefits, including being tolerant to drought conditions and providing a habitat for wildlife. Native plants grow stronger and yield more benefits than non-native ones, which were brought in from other parts of the world.

“This is how we make our living and we do the best job we can to manage and protect the environment,” said Draganic, who raises cattle and works full-time at Ricketts Farm, a relative’s grain farm.

In 2007, the family signed a 15-year contract to put 60 acres along Sugar Creek into the U.S Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP). They planted native warm-season grasses and forbs (wildflowers) that have deep roots to help hold the soil against erosion and filter surface runoff by taking up nutrients. During the heat of the summer, these warm-season grasses thrive while the cool season ones, such as fescue and bluegrass, become dormant. The warm-season grasses help fill forage gaps for livestock and require little, if any, fertilizer or herbicides. They also can be more tolerant of poorly drained soils.

Because warm-season grasses usually grow in bunches, they can provide sanctuary for wildlife such as quail, pheasants and rabbits.

“It’s neat to hear a bobwhite calling and kind of fun to see a pheasant running across the land and know that you’re part of the reason why they’re coming back,” Draganic said.

Native forbs, typically found in prairies, meadows and fields, attract a wide variety of pollinators such as insects, birds and bats. Native plants attract native pollinators, which are typically considered more efficient pollinators, according to USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service.

“It used to be you just planted grass because it was good for the soil but you were missing the wildlife component. By planting more of a variety of prairie grasses and forbs, you are opening the ground up for more diversity,” said Barb Bauer, a Pheasants Forever farm bill wildlife biologist in Highland County.

For Marcus Hoholick, putting part of his land into the CREP program was an easy decision – he had a strong desire to protect a creek and improve the land. Through the program, the Kettering firefighter received funding to put in 2,500 trees along a creek and native plants and grasses in a meadow. At the same time, he removed invasive plants such as honeysuckle. He worked with Bauer and the local Farm Service Agency to determine what type of plants and trees grow best in his area’s soil and climate.

“I didn’t do CREP for the money,” said Hoholick, who rents the rest of his land out to a grain farmer. “I want to get the soil in better shape and bring in more wildlife.”

Examples of warm-season grasses:

  • Big bluestem
  • Little bluestem
  • Indian grass
  • Switchgrass
  • Eastern gamagrass

Examples of native Ohio flowering plants:

  • Gray-headed coneflower
  • Beardtongue
  • Prairie dock
  • Stiff goldenrod
  • Butterfly weed
  • Brown-eyed susan
  • Ohio spiderwort

See a complete list of native Ohio grasses and forbs

Amy Beth Graves is a freelance writer from Upper Arlington.