Twig Tips by Jodie

Posted on August 25, 2018 by jo

This Grass is a Gas!

Really! It could be....our native switch grass could be a gas!  It is one of the organic materials that can be used (like corn) to make ethanol.  I am not, however, going to launch into a dissertation about alternative energy. I wouldn't be able to tell you a darn thing about the use of switch grass as a fuel, but I can sure tell you what it can do for our landscape plantings!  Along with a couple of other native grasses, switch grass lends its beauty and adaptability to a low-maintenance garden.  I want to tell you all about it and a couple of other awesome native grasses.

1) Switch Grass.  We use several different cultivars of switch grass in our landscape plantings, the two most popular being 'Heavy Metal', known for its outstanding blue foliage and 'Shenandoah', which takes on a red color in the summer and fall months.  There are other varieties too, like 'Northwind' and 'Cloud Nine'.  They get different sizes, between 4' and 6', so make sure you read the label.  All switch grass blooms in mid to late summer, their flowers are open and airy, moving gracefully in the summer breezes. 


2) Prairie Dropseed.  This grass is just ADORABLE.  It forms dense, arching clumps of fine-textured, emerald green leaves. Each clump reaches about 2'.  It flowers in the late summer, producing whispy stalks about 30" tall but here comes the good part....the fall color is a lovely deep orange color that really adds a lot of interest to the garden late in the year.  They are drought-tolerant and deer resistant (as are all of the other native grasses) which is another great reason to consider using them in our Indiana landscapes.


3) Little Bluestem. "The Blues" is an amazing selection of our native Little Bluestem.  It reaches about 2-2 1/2', sending up silvery racemes during early fall that turn a tan shade that shows up well in our winter landscapes.  The foliage is a very bright blue that turns yellow and burgandy in the fall...WOW.  If you want buffalo in your back yard, this is the one to plant.



4) Northern Sea Oats.  I have to tell you about this one because it grows so well in the shade, which is kind of unique for grasses.  HOWEVER, I am going to warn you that it re-seeds itself prolifically so best to use it where that won't be a problem.  But it's SO pretty, it's worth dealing with the volunteers.  It gets about 4' tall and the coolest thing about it (other than it does well in shade) is its fishscale-shaped floral spikelets that are at first a pale green and then change to a reddish-brown and fade to tan in the fall.  They, too, are quite lovely during the winter months and can be used in cut-flower arrangements.  There is a variegated variety called River Mist...GORGEOUS.

Once again I am running out of room, there are several other native grasses worth mentioning.  I have used Tufted Hairgrass and Indian Grass with good results.  I love the natives because, well, they are native. When I use them it makes me feel like I am restoring a little bit of the prairie that was once in this part of the country.  I feel kind of patriotic or something.  But mostly, I love how low-maintenance and hardy they are, you will too if you give them a try.

Off to hug my switch grass before somebody comes along and wants to make gas with it - Jodie 


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