Mary Meyer – Five Native Grasses for Tough Sites

October 2, 2012

by Sam Bauer

Wet Sites

palm sedge, Muskingum sedge Carex muskingumensis 2-3 ft; average to wet soils; full sun to medium shade

Native to wet areas along rivers and marshes, palm sedge is known for its stiff foliage and three-ranking leaf arrangement typical of sedges. Easy to gow, tolerates standing water, at lake edges and soils that flood. In ideal sites, plants can be 36” wide, thick and full. Chartreuse foliage when grown in sun,dark green in shade; self-seeds; ‘Oehme’ has yellow leaf margins, slower growing, very attractive.

switchgrass Panicum virgatum 3-6′; upright, average to wet soils; full sun

Switchgrass is common in the tall grass prairie; can be an aggressive, a highly variable species; often grows in standing water and roadside ditches; readily self-seeds and may dominate a prairie or a garden; winter cover and food for many birds, stands up well in winter; grown from seed plants will vary widely, many named cultivars with wide variation. ‘Northwind’ is stiff and upright, wide olive green foliage with flowers borne partially in foliage, great screen or hedge, 5′.

Dry Sites

side oats grama Bouteloua curtipendula 12-30″; average to dry soils; full sun

Found on dry, upland sites, this species also tolerates heavy clay soils. Pendulous flowers are one sided; can self-seed; grey-green foliage, much shorter than the flowers; a tough plant for dry slopes and poor soils.

little bluestem Schizachyrium scoparium 2-4′; average to dry soils; full sun

Common in tall and shortgrass prairies, little bluestem prefers mesic (medium) to dry sites; variable in height and form when grown from seed; blue summer foliage turns red and orange in the fall; an excellent grass for dry sites, slopes and lighter gravely soils; plants can readily self-seed and are easy to grow, especially on poor soils; little bluestem foliage is larva food for many skipper butterflies. ‘MinnBlueA’ Blue HeavenTM University of Minnesota selection for upright blue foliage in summer, burgundy and red fall foliage, 3-4’.

prairie dropseed Sporobolus heterolepis 3-4′; average to dry soils; full sun

Prairie dropseed is a fine-textured grass mound forming bunch grass, common to dry prairie sites; a beautiful grass with fine, light airy flowers; rhe round-bead like seeds are oily and fall from the plant when ripe, their fragrant is very characteristic, smelling like “hot buttered popcorn” or coriander and cumin; easy to grow but may be slow to establish; prefers dry, well-drained soils and spring propagation. Can be used in mass to cover slopes and as an alternative lawn where foot traffic is minimal. ‘Tara’ is a shorter form, uniform and upright, 24-30”.

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