Here's a detailed prairie establishment guide by Prairie Nursery — from prairie prep to seeding, establishment and maintenance.
Often spaces under trees are bare, and grass can't grow, but there are shade-loving wildflowers and grasses out there — two of my favorite places to find those plants are the searchable database at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and the online shop at Prairie Moon Nursery.
Maybe you can mass some sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula) or prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis). Those are two of my favorite dry-loving prairie shortgrass plants. If you like taller grasses, think about some stands of bluestem (Andropogon spp) or Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans) — you could even have the taller grasses in the back and the shorter ones up front to mimic a more traditional garden design. Toss in some coneflowers, blue sage or liatris (Liatris aspera) for a few pops of blooming color from early summer to midautumn, and you've started cooking up a prairie.
If you have a shadier area, look into native sedges — they look like grasses but aren't as tall.
Great grasses for a new lawn
Another planting suggestion: Have fun and design one container with some little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) underplanted with purple prairie clover or dwarf blazing star (Liatris cylindracea). You might need to bring the container into the garage or shed for winter so the roots don't freeze or dry out, especially if you live in zone 5 or a cooler climate.
There are prairie plants for almost any type of environment, from wet to dry. You can go all out with a diverse seed mix, create traditional beds or get modern with just grasses. Match the design to your house and maybe pick up Catherine Zimmerman's book on meadow gardening, Urban and Suburban Meadows.
Prairie plants are low maintenance when properly sited, and once established feed all kinds of beneficial pollinating insects, improve soil fertility and restore a bit of what was once here for lots of species that still depend on native prairie plant communities.
Each small garden landscape, when connected, becomes a prairie corridor for wonder and for life you maybe didn't know was there until you welcomed it back home.
More: 3 Ways Native Plants Make Gardening So Much Better