Ornamental Grasses 201 – Nice Natives

Although most of the garden-worthy grasses we sell as ornamentals are exotic, there are many beautiful native grasses to choose from in commerce.  Whenever possible, we like to encourage our customers to try using native grasses.  They grow well, require little care, and have evolved with the natural vegetation of the island.  Native plants contribute to the overall beauty and health of our planted landscapes as well as the native ecosystem.  They also support the fauna that has developed here over thousands of years.

There are many native grasses found here, growing in a wide variety of habitats; from the shore line into the more fertile interior areas of the island.  The most popular species of native grasses that we sell is Panicum virgatum, commonly called Switch Grass or Panic Grass.  There has been a lot of work done with these grasses over the years, so there are many cultivars to choose from with a variety of heights, habits and colors to the foliage.  For more information on some of the various Panicum grasses check out this post: https://surfinghydrangea.com/switch-grass-2086

Another of our naturally-occurring grasses that is slowly becoming more popular is Schizachyrium scoparium, Little Bluestem.  If you walk your dog at Tuppancy Links, you are very familiar with this grass: it’s one of the predominant species found growing on the links, especially beautiful in the fall when it takes on coppery-red, orange and auburn hues.  Backlit by the sun at the end of the day, it’s magic.  Little bluestem grows best in full sun on moderately fertile, well-drained soils without much additional water.  The narrow bluish foliage appears in mid to late spring from the base of mostly clumping plants.  By August, the plant reaches its full height of about 2-3′ and begins to flower.  The flowering stems rise above the foliage, producing tight sprays of fluffy flowers.  Gardeners have found that when little bluestem is over-irrigated or grown with too much fertility it can get floppy – avoid this problem by planting it in un-amended soil and only watering during establishment and prolonged periods of drought.

Whether planted in drifts or sprinkled here and there among perennial flowers, this is a wonderful addition to almost any island landscape.  Several cultivars are available including ‘The Blues’ whose blue foliage is steaked with purple and accented with red stems.  ‘Standing Ovation’ is another great cultivar that is touted to be reliably sturdy with an upright, non-flopping, habit.

For a plant that will tolerate shadier conditions, try Carex pensylvanica, Pensylvania Sedge.  Although, it’s not technically a true grass, this short (6-12″) plant has a delicate, grassy look with arching foliage and spreads by rhizomes to make a pretty ground cover.  It looks especially nice in dappled shade under deciduous trees but grows well in fully shaded areas.

Several other grasses native to North America are also well-worth planting.  For a fine textured, loose look  consider Sporobolus heterolepsis, Prairie Dropseed, Deschampsia cespitosa, Tufted Hair Grass or Descampsia flexuosa, Crinkled Hair Grass.