288. Native Landscape Design | Prairie Nursery | Neil Diboll | Westfield WI


The Golden Seeds aren’t perfect but it’s a start. I like to read them in PDF format better what about you?

Neil Diboll, President of Prairie Nursery, Inc.

On the Web:



1-800-476-9453 (1-800-GRO-WILD)

We would love to help you with anything and even help you find some seeds or plants that would grow!

Gardens are  focused on needs desires of humans only life gardening for all farms plants


  • animals
  • critters
  • bugs

sustainable ecosystem on people’s properties native plants. The real importance of native plants is that they

have co-evolved with other linked to one

brought to another

long periods f coevolution support very few of other invertebrates adaptation foundation of the food change limited value ecology

what resource was important


bringing nature home

more valuable

the other thing to get the chemicals out of the environment

native plants are great because 1 you don’t have to fertilize

and you don’t have all the maintenance associated with it and opposed to a lawn you don’t have all the petrol chemicals and

gasoline building it or running  the equipment.

steal plastic

most important

if I don’t see holes in the leaves of my plants. I’m a failure as a gardener

encourage my plants to be eaten

insects are eating them and insects are eating the birds so I have an ecosystem in my yard.

I mean birds eating the insects.

You are creating a food chain, creating a food web, in your garden. So we are no longer just gardening for human interests and human returns gardening for all forms of life sharing

revolutionary concept for gardening.

Tell us about your very first gardening experience?

I started out  in first grade with my first garden. Our class was raising money for some endeavor by selling garden seeds for ten cents a packet, door to door to neighbors.  I decided that if I was going to sell people a product, I should at least try it myself.  The garden was a miserable failure due to terrible soil conditions, and I suspended my gardening efforts for ten years.

I learned to garden organically at age 16 when I decided to try vegetable gardening again in the same backyard.  This time I double dug the future garden two spade lengths deep in the fall, and filled the hole with the leaves we raked up in our yard.  The hole consumed all the leaves without hardly denting the chasm.  I then collected leaves from the gutters on my block, and filled the hole with one foot of leaves, covered by an inch or two of clay, until I had a three foot tall “mass grave,” as my extremely skeptical parents referred to it. A giant mound in the backyard. By spring, it had settled down to about 18 inches in height, and I planted my garden. 

It was a spectacular success, producing an abundance of vegetables and greens, and I was suddenly a genius gardener!

Used that garden for years ~ even after I went to college my parents used it for years.

I love that! It’s like you built your own deep beds right there. Like what people talk about today building deep beds no till style. Tell us about your amazing CV that talks about all these things.

I went into business in 1982! Why did I go into business? Well, for a number of different reasons.

I worked for the US. Forest Service  in Colorado and the University of Wi where I live now. But there was limited employment for 6 months. and I just wasn’t a public sector person, there was a lot of bureaucracy. Then when the recession of 1981-82 hit.

When you can’t find a job, what do you do? You create your own

I created a backyard garden

retiring at age 68

old farmhouse

outside of greenery

ok if we use that land if we rent the house

can I buy your plants and move your nursery

why don’t you just come down and run it

where the hell is Westfield

bought a cheap  old trailer.

2  neighbors building  garden in their backyard.

We were the talk of the town

little did they know we had girlfriends

but we let them talk. It was a barebones existence because in 1982 native plants were still weeds. We couldn’t give it away! My friends said hey, plant

day lilies


I was like this is the future! I’m not giving this up! The problem was the future hadn’t caught up. We kept at it.

I was like I went to college for this?

first color catalog

sales doubled

interesting journey

tough rows to hoe

ahead of the curb

things came

There’s very good reasons why native plants make sense. It’s the four Es I call them.


first trees and shrubs

flowers grasses and shrubs

use the environment

don’t need all these chemicals

don’t have to use all these pesticides fungicides or gasoline for growing lawns!

You have deep rooted plants that increase water infiltration into the ground. Instead of that running off you have amuch more closed loop system

also have strips if you do have areas where fertilizers are  applied native grasses with deep roots you have fertilized water running into them it can filter out that chemicals

3 energy

use a lot less energy then a lawn

nice beautiful prairie

burn it every other year

not spending a lot of time and energy

4th e is economics

It can save you a lot of money on time and maintenance.

The 5th E is an emotional connection to the

planting prairie


So Neil do you want to give us some tips if you want to go this. I find the biggest barrier is where to start, find information, like that day lillie and irises are not native plants.

The first thing to do if you are just getting started with native plants is to avail yourself of all this resources on the internet

Most states have a native plant societies you will meet people who are into native plants but if you don’t want to be involve

Illinois wildflowers also have trees and shrubs

Another called the prairie ecologist which is an individual who puts out phenomenal information on prairies

You can get your own wildflower book

nature preserves

learn the plants on your own way! I took a botany in college where you get the basics but the best is to spend the time out in nature where you see them in action. With pollinators and  butterflies on them.

On our website there is tons of info. We have lots of woodland parts that are midwestern but people who live in different part of the country they have completely different plants from us

you wouldn’t want to use our stuff in AZ


grow in the high mountains

so the rest

find what the best plants are start with the university

I was gonna say your website because you share tons of information.


Do you want to talk about pollinators?

Of course, pollinators are extremely important!

33% of the food we eat as human beings require pollination so we have a vested interest in supporting habitat for pollinoators.

largest producer of cranberries

drain marshes

plant cranberries in them

good pollinator populations

weeks of

strips of prairies that will be available

vested intersted

The whole food chain is dependent upon insects!

We have had a long standing relationships co-evolution

native flora and native fauna


most plants use chemical warfare to ward off insects that would eat their leaves. So pants have adapted to


overcome toxins we use

classic example the monarch butterfly that eats the toxic weeds of the milkweed family


native insects

native plants

nonnative plants

Very rarely do you have the depths of the relationships of the other critters that utilize

It’s not there.

Nonnative plants do not supply food or sustenance

do not support

native plants are so important!

relationship and native plants and between native plants and pollinators.

The best books you can read is called:

bringing nature home


university of nature

close relationships between native plants and

really explaining why native plants is so important!

I always tell listeners always leave a 5star review for that book so everyone can read it and I just read from AJ that he planted a pollinator border and when I went to the Brooklyn Grange one of the best parts was the pollinator border. IT’s so pretty it goes around their farm and full of snap dragons, and zinnias and cosmos and tons of herbs and lavender etc!

You know it’s interesting the organic gardener can take this to the next level!



pollination vegetables

you also have bio control mechanisms

supported by native plants

There’s a plant called the rattlesnake master

yuca-folium but it’s actually a carrot humble and this plant is pollinated primarily by wasps. A lot of people would say don’t plant, but theses are a very high percentage are parasitic wasps

what do they do? very small


There is a parasitic wasp that attacks just about every other:

  • insect
  • spider
  • tic
  • mite

creator that flies around in the air

parasitic wasp


I think the people are one of the few plants around here that grow outside our deer fence that I think attract a wasp.

But here’s what’s so cool, I had a customer who 

tomato horn worms every year on his

1/4 pound

had rattlesnake master and it takes 3 years for the perennial seeds to mature and begin blooming. He called me and said I have no tomato horn worms what’s going on.

I said do you have rattlesnake master? Is it blooming? He said, yeah’ it’s doing great!

Well rattle snake master attacks the tomato horn worm from the inside out. It burrows in and eat it from the inside out and kill.

He say’s my prairie is my insecticide

maintaining the balance

That’s what they are doing with the rooftop garden For years people have  known all about this but it’s a new concept for people that you can use non chemical.

Well lots of people ask about this on my show or in my Facebook group. I have had people talk about this, but not in such specific detail about attacking tomato hornworms, I do think people will say where do I get Rattlesnake master?

you don’t want to focus on one plant

core on our landscaping is biodiversity What we are trying to do is spread the diversity of our native plants

diverse area of different flowers




you are now setting stage t make space to support all these different creatures that make life

native shrubs

more native grasses

more beneficial

you will have a wide away of critters nature that allows you to maintain a balance naturally

Everyone knows when you spray you are killing good guys and bad guys

I tell customers get rid of that stuff right away, take them to a disposable site. We know they kill the good guys!

Here’s the revolutionary part.

in my native garden

if I don’t see holes in the leaves of my plants


people only

our own benefit and enjoyment



creating habitat

creating sanctuary for all sorts of life

if I am not feeding the insects in the

complete failure as an ecological gardener. I want to see the holes

plants because I know then if I am feeding  my neighborhood.

That’s interesting because last year I was wondering what would I do if I was going to take this kale to market. I don’t care about the bugs and holes.

There’s been lots of info in the news lately about the failure of sales of blemished fruits and vegetables

sell perfectly good food



not perfect in appearance

leading change

blemished fruit and vegetable section

people refuse to buy it

function of people not understanding it


Look at the amount of waste it’s such a huge waste that gets thrown away.

I haven’t seen an increase in the # of

What drives me crazy is that those supermarkets don’t even compost it. We always have used bananas for sale. But I hate that it just goes in the garbage. Maybe a lot of it I’m sure is education.

I am just shocked everyeimt I walk into home depot or lowes are these giant roundup chemical lawn weed killer right in my face, at the entrance to the gardening section!

Yes the smell of the chemicals.

I know exactly. I talked to Jacqueline Freeman who hangs out in that isle when her husband is hoping and pretend to not know what she needs. and then she engages them in a converstaion. But I know I hate to even walk down that isle.

Rarely need to use any pesticide.

one option

kill weeds with glyphosate

cost effective

other ways to do it with tillage

cover crops

Where you can vanquish the weeds

A lot of people with smaller areas will smother weeds with

  • tarps
  • cardboard
  • compost

on top of cardboard


blue grass lawn

perennial weeds we recommend that people smother for a full growing season.


There are a few weeds that take 2 years or longer to smother:

  • canada thistle
  • bindweed
  • vetch

I’m so glad I talked to you. I did this interview with Mandy Gerth, I was like I’m gonna do this tarp thing. I got on Farmer’s Friend and it was over $500 + shipping. But I posted in Facebook is this what I should expect to spend, but I found out that a lot of people use old billboard plastic.

The other thing Mike and I were talking about there is a meadow we have that is down on the end of our property, I keep saying we could smother the spotted knapweed down there and smother them in a month but he said it would take all year so now talking to you I realize as I should always know listen to mike.

I want to get a permit and grow some hemp there.

I was ahead of you growing hemp in college. Haha.

I think that is going to come around too! I can’t believe how much it has changed. 3 years ago, I couldn’t get anyone to talk about it for my 4/20 episode.It’s amazing what has happened!

Wi leading producers for making rope for the then it was made illegal later. So it’s this great crop for:

  • fiber oil
  • great products

guilt by association

guilt that was underserved

Suddenly they are realizing that marijuana has good medical uses and probably safer then alcohol.

You know there’s actually a book called Marijuana is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink?  that starts talking about this soccer came down in Brazil or somewhere and there were no problems like at a football game where people are drinking.

People always tell me I should eat hemp protein and hemp hearts etc because I am a vegetarian. We would like to build a house out of hemp concrete. One of the biggest people involved in getting it outlawed was William Randolph Hearst and then Rodales sold out to Hearst Publications, I just can’t believe it!

Back to native plants.

There’s endless topics we could talk about.

Let’s talk a little bit about roots!

Great excellent!

When you talk about prairie plants

About on average 2/3 of average

biomass resides underground.

average prairie grass

1/3 of it above ground.

Some plants have 85% of living plant matter underground in their roots

Many have very deep roots, grasses in general depending on the species. Many have very deep roots 1-8 feet deep go 10-12 feet or deeper! They encompass really wrap themselves around the plant holding it in place and preventing erosion.

The average grass plant loses 1/3 of it’s roots at the end of the growing season every year! And what happens to those roots? They turn into organic matter!

And so, the prairie and grasslands in general are regarded and associated as some of the highest quality ag soils in the world because of the organic matter that has accumulated over thousands and thousands of years in those ecosystems.

What has happened to the American Prairie is they are now some of the

rarest ecosystems in the world because it has such tremendous ag value it was plowed under relentlessly for economic reasons and converted to

  • wheat
  • corn
  • hay
  • soybeans

Which is why it’s so rare. But of little of note the American prairie that escaped the plow for people who are looking to restore the earth

Grasslands are one of the best things you can plant

  • hold the soil
  • encourage water into water table
  • restore nutrient level
  • create high quality habitat

Here is another interesting point, now I don’t have actual data

ecological structure




There’s about a 50/50 split in the forest community between the tree trunks and the leaves, branches etc and roots depending on the forest type and species.

In the prairie you have about 2/3 underground and 1/3 above ground.

The never ending deep into the soil

most forests, verbaceous you don’t get the depth of rooting.

Most forest soils have very thin layers of top soil you have this massive amount of incorporation over time in prairies.

So in theory over time in prairies, so prairies because of the deposition or suspension of organic matter in the soil are more adept at taking carbon dioxide out of the air then forests.

People are planting trees to reduce carbon levels in an effort to reduce global warming, but if you look at the ecology of the grassland system with deep rooted plants that are constantly adding organic matter i.e. carbon into soil every year. Prairies theoretically will take more carbon dioxide out of system and keep it or suspend it in the soil so it’s not going back into the air.

The organic matter that decomposes at the surface is invariable converted into other forms of carbon including  carbon dioxide goes into the soil and turns into organic matter is not except slowly released by microorganisms.

Can I ask you a question about golf courses? Didn’t it say you worked on golf courses?

Well golf courses, they used to be the classic ecological desert. When you are looking at maintaining:

  • greens
  • fairways
  • tees etc

They are very high maintenance with

  • irrigation
  • fertilization
  • pesticide application

So more and more golf courses are changing their ruffs from non-native  plantings to native plantings like prairies and it has worked with a number of golf courses. It creates a new experience for the golfers


into the ruff

creates high quality habitat on the golf course

uptick in golf courses to create an ecological value on their properties there is a tremendous opportunity for courses to participate.

It also saves them money. There’s that fourth E, economics.

And they do ok, like the ecosystem and the butterflies etc that are in the rough, from all the pesticides they are spraying on the golf course?

Spraying the fairways, then you wonder are you creating a high quality depth trap. But more and more golf courses are using pest management so they don’t have to spray because their customers are saying hey, I’m touching that grass I don’t want to walk out there where all these pesticides are. Your seeing the real change, I’m not saying it’s universal but you are seeing a new sensitivity.

declined 20%

they have tracked, IDK if you read this article in the NYTimes the correlation of interest of golf and the decline of Tiger Woods, golf has dropped off a cliff and now they are all excited again.

As society changes, and cultures change increasing attitudes.

But you wouldn’t know that when you see people still have so many lawns

chemicals in the environment

lawns on their homes and this is the default landscape. This is the true tragedy of this because e have this tremendous  opportunity to restore our planet in our suburbs, around the world here in the united states, we have millions of acres devoted to peoples homes that could be converted to native prairie landscapes with local

  • trees
  • shrubs
  • habitat

We would get rid of pesticides, fertilizers etc and have homes for birds. This is where we are on the real frontier. You can improve the planet. People say I’m just one person,  I can’t do anything NONSENSE!

You can do something on your property.

downtown mi

native garden


urban wilderness of downtown

If more people in the suburbs did this we would have a critical mass


support some life

If everybody did that in across the country, we could have a huge impact at least in our country, if one person in combination with the neighbors it could have a vast impact.

Also, it would reduce cost for taxes if you don’t have to pay to have shared areas around a community to be irrigated etc. Can I ask about like soccer fields where kids are playing, in my mom’s town there’s a thing going to help with playgrounds.

I’m not a turf expert but we do have a normal lawn mix that made of fine fescues that are very drought tolerant so it’s a great alternative for a low maintenance lawn. But it’s not a turf grass, so you should always select the proper turf grass.

I like that people are saying we don’t want to use these chemicals wear these moon suits where you kids play and your pets go

birds and things

I was at my moms last june and I’m looking at these yellow flags all over the block, that say don’t walk here for 24 hours and I’m like what happens after 24 hours it’s gone down into the water, and then they have a water problem. What do you think?

I was watching AOC on the democracy now, and when she gets elected and she’s taking her high speed bullet train in 2028 when she returns. People are visioning the future. Like you started your business back in the 1980s and I think a lot would be teaching people. You’re probably ready to get off the phone.

Our business, we basically don’t advertise but our business has grown almost exclusively word of mouth by people seeing their neighbors yards and saying where did you get that?

prairie nursery has grown

education and exposure

we don’t go out and say you shouldn’t do we say here’s an alternative that’s better and you are going to like it better.

rather then scold

we have a better alternative


I don’t just get beautiful flowers grasses, I get birds and they think wow! this is great!

Whenever you are looking at any social change event you just have to say I have a better alternative and promote that!

hey I have something better rather then the green new deal

deal with our resource base

living lower on the food chain


What about your least favorite activity?

Well because we have an organic vegetable garden is picking Colorado potato beetles off the potatoes and eggplants and squishing them between my thumb and forefinger, although it is strangely rewarding nonetheless. That’s my least favorite thing squishing beetles.

My favorite gardening activity? is burning my prairies in spring.

prairies evolved under the influence of flower

Partly Native Americans who did it for the economic benefit for hunting


forest you don’t get large meat. If your economy is hunting and gathering etc

burning the forest

americans were able to increase their food supply

prairies don’t exist in kansas etc.

extend into Illinois



indiana all the way to NY and Connecticut

burning the prairie

important factor


helps to control cool season non-native weeds

quack grass

kentucky blue grass is a weed in the prairie



problem in our prairies

green up in the spring sometime around late April

burn our prairies it’s a lot of fun to help control the invasive.

Do you want to explain. Is it to add nitrogen to the soil right?

adds potassium

just controlling

reduce the invasion of unwanted woody plants native or non native and containing cool season weeds

The other factor are most prairie plants are warm season 70s

cool season they start growth 4-6 weeks before the prairie plants so by waiting till just before the plants you knock back the cool season weeds

4-56” tall so you deprive them of their generate from root reserves stored  with less energy

soil is black and the beauty of black is it makes the temp increases dramatically.

In green bay on may 1st we did an experiment was the top inch was 18 degrees higher in just  4 days

that stimulated the growth


very specific process to favor native prairie plants because they evolved under fire.

It’s beneficial


burning the ecosystem

management tool for making sure they do well and prosper and keeping woody plant out

If you look around the world and you look around the ecosystem



lodgepole forest usually burn every 100 years, but what it did

surpassed fro so long

morning yellowstone

explosion of wildlife

like bison and elk and other grazers in other eaters

redwoods forest that is burned it looks terrible the first year but after that they have this 6-12 inch thick bark

generate new


some ways benefited by fire

remove competition

great for redwoods not good for the doug fir but great for the redwoods


every other year

1000 years they burn but they almost invariably maybe you shouldn’t put your your house in the lodgepole forest.


people putting house in the chaparral

if they had burned

wouldn’t have built up to the level

But people don’t pay attention to that and they don’t look at ecology.

Huh, I feel they could have paid more attention that it could have been prevented, my brother said something like that they had their houses in the wrong spots.

9 The best gardening advice I ever received about gardening was from Bob Smith, who founded Prairie Nursery as a hobby in 1966. 

Wasn’t even 1/2 an acre, he said Neil He told me “You gotta be ruthless.  Don’t get sentimental about the plants in the nursery.  Sometimes you just have to tear up old plots to create newer, more productive ones.”

when it’s time to make a change you got to move forward

absolutely right

utility it’s time to swap it out and put  something new in.

He’s like the original Mari Kondo of the midwest before so tidying, and sparking joy, it’s really working for me, I say thank you and move on.

10 My favorite tool is the drip torch, for starting prairie fires. A canister with 20% gasoline. What a professional pyromaniac uses. haha.

11 How do you pick a favorite recipe?  Impossible! I grew some incredible butternut squash last year. And I dumped the compost into the hole, I dug these big holes, I was like we had extra compost, we had so much.  I was rotating to our second pile and I said put this in the hole!

through gallons

butternut squash


cook our last squash

don’t keep anymore

for some reason

  • butternut squash
  • maple syrup
  • bacon
  • garlic/onion

Omgod it’s tremendous

curry butternut soup

Vegan without milk, I love that!

Chipotle peppers.

I smoke my own on

all weekend endeavor

sat morning

end sun

adobo sauce give them for christmas presents and people just clammer for them!

All sorts of things you can do with butternut squash.

I bought some coconut milk to do that yesterday.

12 My favorite internet resources are about native plants, such as Illinois Wildflowers, Missouri Botanic Garden, National Wildflower Research Center, and Biota of North America Project. Wild ones landscaping group.

13 Best book on the importance of native plants and their role in sustaining all life is “Bringing Nature Home” by Douglas Tallamy   .

BOIA App? Agrarian

occurs in every county in the US

amazing resource

local state resources

have really good native plant resources

native plant society

wonderful things

great conferences

national group

the wild ones

natural landscapers

sustainable landscapes


don’t do what I do, I didn’t have a clue.

I’m a plant nerd my degree is in environmental sciences

I new I needed to be independent and start my own direction

strongly motivated

little nursery was not even a half an acre there were a few small native nurseries

Nobody was really promoting it,

universities that had aboratae

speaking into our society I wanted to take it to the mainstream

selling people

plants and seeds and providing them the info on how to do this

I was clueless

didn’t understand business

every day is a final exam

  • marketing
  • employee relations
  • finance
  • taxes

You’re like graduate school for the rest of your life, every day is a job interview where you might talk to 5-10 customers who say, do you have what I need?

After 37 years #1 you have to have an excellent product and you need to provide excellent customer service.

Our business sells native plants for ornamental and ecological restoration, rather than for produce.  However, the rules of business apply across the board:

a Produce an excellent product you can be proud of and stand behind

if you don’t have that go home

b Provide excellent customer service – no one’s perfect

without the customer, the creates your paycheck

c Treat your customers fairly, as if they were your best friends

The other customers are my employees even the person with the lowest job description in your company you are no one without their people I try provide them with what they need to do their job best

d Treat your employees with respect, help make their jobs as easy as possible, and pay them as well as you can possible afford. I didn’t go into this business to get rich.

If you love what you do you never work a day in your life. Try to take care of people to the best to your ability.

Maintain a solid presence on the internet with an excellent website that reaches all your potential customers.

thank my lucky stars when we started out  were a mail order nursery. We got the letters with the orders in  it transitioned to 800 #s. Then in the 2000 transition to the internet

85% of orders come on the internet. I have half of the staff answering phones, the only way to find your customers. If you don’t have a good web presence it’s gonna be a tough row to hoe.

f Never lose track of your values and the reasons why you went into business in the first place. Keep true to values and dream never lose site

make sure the organization shares that. I am so fortunate that I have a wonderful group of people, everyone’s drinking the cool aid and are aware of why we exist restore their little piece of the planet.

15 The most critical change we can make as a species is to reduce our environmental impact by reducing our consumption of resource, living lower on the food chain, and respect all forms of life with whom we share this beautiful planet.  If we continue to undermine the foundation of life, we will eventually become victims of the extinction process we have set in motion.  Restoring the integrity of the Earth using native plants appropriate to each unique region is something everyone can do to help heal the torn and rendered fabric of our planet.

there are so many great charities

that always helps, the real bottom line is humans have to come to the conclusion we are one species among many. We have this notion that we are the superior species and the earth was given to ours for our own exploitation. As long as we follow that credo, we will continue to despoil the earth at our own risk. We can isolate from ourselves from the collapse to some degree although some people are already feeling the effects.

Some people in wealthy nations and northern climates can postpone it a bit but eventually it will catch up to us

earth is here for people

idk at the concept of native americans

realized that the are just part of the whole

Eurocentric culture

more of a this is ours let’s take it but until we get over that we are going to continue to ruin the planet at our own risk.


no rational reason to hasten this process we need to take care of our mother.

but we need to completely revamp our relationship with the other inhabitants

without them we are dead!

16 “Homo sapiens merely awaits its appointment with the sediments.  There is no reason to hasten the process.  Take care of your Mother.”

How do we connect with you?

Web:     www.prairienursery.com


1-800-476-9453 (1-800-gro-wild)

We would love to help you with anything and even help you find some seeds or plants that would grow!