University of Illinois Extension
Bruce Spangeberg

These articles are written to apply to the northeastern corner of Illinois. Problems and timing may not apply outside of this area.

Stateline Yard & Garden

Consider Planting Ornamental Grasses (Part 2)

As discussed last week, ornamental grasses are popular, easy to grow landscape plants. Miscanthus and feather reed grass were two specific species outlined. Here are some additional species to consider, including some native grasses.

Several species of ornamental grasses can provide shades of blue to the landscape, all of which like full sun but tolerate partial shade. The blue fescues (Festuca species) grow as low mounds of blue-gray, fine textured foliage. They are good choices as accent plantings, groundcovers, and for rock gardens. Blue oat grass, Helictotrichon sempervirens, produces larger mounds of medium textured foliage. Then there’s Blue Lymegrass (Leymus arenarius), a coarse species that may become invasive due to rhizomes, but a good choice near waterways.

Fountain grass, or Pennisetum alopecuroides, is a popular species with arching clumps of foxtail-like flowers. This species is marginally hardy in northern Illinois. The red or burgundy fountain grasses should be considered annuals in our area. They make good additions to landscape beds containing various types of annual flowers.

Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) is a native grass that makes a good choice for landscape use. Erect slumps of arching blue-green foliage and a reddish-brown fall color make this an attractive plant. Big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) is a much taller native species that grows in upright, open clumps of arching foliage. The turkey-foot flowers appear in late summer.

Prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepsis) is another popular native grass. This species features arching mounds of fine textured foliage along with open, airy seedheads in late summer. Another interesting native is side oats grama, or Bouteloua curtipendula. Narrow, erect seedstalks with a single row of florets make this a unique and interesting plant.

Finally, Indian grass, Sorghastrun nutans, is another good native perennial ornamental grass. Taller, medium textured blue-green foliage turns bronze in fall. The very attractive golden flowers appear in late summer.

These are among the more popular ornamental grasses to consider adding to your landscape. Certainly there are others. Research the species that best fit your landscape, making sure they are hardy and not invasive. Most are easy to grow and relatively problem-free.


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