Managing Natural Areas

There is an increased emphasis on natural areas in and around Lincoln for drainage ways, green space, parks, residential landscaping, etc. There are some basic concepts that need to be understood in managing natural areas in urban areas such as:

  • Most of our grass and/or wooded areas are not made up of predominately pre-settlement native plants. Most areas have been disturbed and/or invaded by non-native plants. Most sites will require restoration and management of declining habitat.
  • All plant communities are undergoing a continual change. This change needs to be understood and management practices implemented to maintain and/or improve the plant community.
  • Disturbed areas and areas with the undesirable vegetation will require many, many years to be restored by natural succession. These areas will require revegetation in order to meet your plant community objective in the near future.
  • Natural areas are subject to invading plants including noxious weeds. Existing undesirable invading plants and noxious weeds need to be identified and controlled. These plants along with any new invading plants will require an ongoing control effort.
  • All-natural areas need to be managed to maintain a desirable complement of vegetation and to be neighbor-friendly. Some invader plants such as ragweed contribute to allergy problems and tall mature plants may cause safety problems such as a line of sight obstruction for motorists or a possible fire hazard.

Site Evaluation

An inventory should be made of the site. This should include a listing of the current predominate vegetation. Identify areas that are poorly vegetated that may be bare or have mostly weed vegetation. Determine the soil mapping units for the site from the Soil Survey of Lancaster County. Table 7 beginning on page 115 lists characteristic plant communities by mapping unit. Check the site for remnant plants from the listed plant community for the mapping unit.

Establishing Objectives

Objectives for the site should consider what was found in the site evaluation. Are there enough remnant plants on the site to manage for natural succession or is seeding and planting needed for habitat restoration? If the site has declined significantly, it may more appropriate to tailor the site for the intended uses, management considerations and surrounding land use.

Developing a Plan

Habitat restoration can range from actively seeding and planting an area to passively allowing restoration through appropriate management and natural succession. Management practices such as weed and pest control, inter-seeding, local native plant collection or use exclusion may be used to accelerate the succession process. Select commercially available native grasses and forbs that are adapted to the site. Local native plant collection is an option. Plant species and their distribution and abundance should mimic the natural plant community as closely as possible or use the native species tailored to your objective. Drainageways need to be designed to handle the required flood flow. 

This may require a flow liner and other structures. The plan should indicate the maintenance required to assure that the drainage way will handle the design flow.

Implementing the Plan

No-till drills should be used for planting of native grasses and forbs. The ideal depth for planting native forbs is slightly less than that for native grasses. Have the soil tested for pH and phosphorus. Apply lime and phosphorus as needed. Weed control is very important during stand establishment.

Managing the Area

As indicated earlier, on-going weed control is a given. Protection from encroachment by neighboring residents may be necessary. Mowing of mature plants is desirable to remove dead plant material and reseeding. Drainageways need to be kept clear to allow for the unobstructed flow of water. Neighborhood associations that are assuming maintenance of the area need to understand the maintenance requirements.


  • Lena Gallitano, W A. Skroch, D. A. Bailey 1993. Leaflet Number 645 Weed Management for Wild Flowers NC. Cooperative Extension Service, NC. State University, Raleigh, NC 27695 to 7609.
  • Going Native A prairie restoration handbook for Minnesota landowners, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Section of Ecological Services Scientific and Natural Areas Program 2000