Ornamental grasses in landscapes and gardens are widely popular for many different reasons. We’ll be looking at those uses, as well as some lesser known types of prairie grass varieties. These can be used with great success in your landscape. Gardeners have a love of bringing in creative and unusual touches to their gardens.
Uses for Ornamental Prairie Grass
Ornamental prairie grass add an unusual flare to landscapes and gardens. They provide different shapes, textures and movements in the design areas. Generally, they should be cut back hard, in early spring to make room for the new growth. That is of course, if the plant is a perennial, and not an annual grower.
When deciding how to use the prairie grasses as ornamentals, consideration needs to be given pertaining to how tall and wide the plants will get when full grown.
· Softening hard lines – Prairie grasses can be used to visually soften any hard lines in the landscape such as along driveways, mailboxes, edges, pools, etc.
· Privacy – Tall ornamental grasses can be used as privacy screens or to hide other unsightly areas in gardens, like compost bin areas. Remember however, that they are not evergreen, so part of the year they won’t be hiding those areas.
· Ground Cover – Short varieties can make excellent ground cover by choking out weeds. This can be especially nice on very steep banks where it may be difficult to get other plants to grow. These will also help with erosion control.
· Container Gardens – Prairie grasses can also be excellent to use in container gardens. Use either in conjunction with other plants and flowers, or a stand alone display in cute planters. A way to preserve annual grasses in some cases, is by bringing them inside, or in a greenhouse over the winter.
· Border – The ornamental prairie grass can make eye catching and functional edging or borders, around garden areas and flower beds. Plant a little closer than recommended for this application to make a nice, tight edge.
· Accents – Either the tall or short varieties can be used as accent plants in a bigger scope depending on your placement of the plants, and what you have growing around it. Give special attention to size, and coloring of the grass.
Ornamental prairie grass are also wonderful to attract birds and other forms of wildlife to the garden. They provide seeds for the birds, grass blades for nests and some will nest right in the grass itself.
Grasses are easy to divide and may need to be divided every few years. Simply take a shovel and dig up the roots. Cut the plant in half or quarters, and either give to a friend, or replant those divisions in other areas. Fall is the best time to do this.
Unusual Prairie Grass Varieties
Prairie Dropseed – Sporobolus heterolepis
This grass has a gentle fragrance in the seed head. It has brilliant green colored foliage and its best uses are borders or accents.
Alkali Sakaton – Sporobolus airoides
Is otherwise known as Alkali Dropseed, and related to the above grass Prairie Dropseed. Found in sandy alkaline soils, it will grow in heavy clay and is quite drought tolerant. Gets up to 5 feet tall and blooms most of the summer, it has a showy bloom that is upright and arching.
Indian grass – Sorghastrum nutans
Sometimes this is known as wood grass. The golden brown seed heads make nice cutting filler for fresh or dry arrangements. This grows to about 4 feet tall and is fairly quick grower.
Switch grass – Panicum virgatum
This plant grows up to 5 feet tall with very large and sparse flower panicles, and is a graceful plant. This grass can do well in very poor soil.
Blue Gramma – Bouteloua gracilis
Otherwise known as Mosquito Grass, this grows in short 1 foot clumping patterns, and 2 feet tall when in bloom. It is very drought tolerant and good as ground cover or border grass.
Sideoats Gramma – Bouteloua curtipendula
This is a warm season grass that grows in a clumping pattern to 1 foot tall. Its blooms are contained on one side of the stem, giving it a unique motion when blowing in the wind.
Little Bluestem – Andropogon scoparius
This prairie grass grows to 2 ½ feet and has a beautiful blue green color in summer and turns gorgeous red in the fall.
Big Bluestem – Andropogon gerardii
This is occasionally called Turkey-foot because of the shape of the three parted seed heads. Grows 3-8 feet tall, has blue-green leaves that change to a burnished copper color in the fall, and does remain standing upright all winter.
These plants are unusual and you may be able to find them in nurseries or seed catalogs. There are also other, more common varieties of ornamental grasses like Blue Festuca, Zebra grass, Black Monodo grass (which actually produces stems of jet black small berries), Pampas grass, or Bloodgrass that can make excellent specimens in the garden landscape as well.
Have you ever tried any prairie grass as ornamental in your garden? What kind (if you know) and what was your experience with it?
Until next time,