Five Great Native Grasses and Sedges

1. Pennsylvania Sedge (Carex pensylvanica) 

This dainty sedge spreads slowly by rhizomes to form grass like mats and has superb textural effect. It has been used successfully as a grass substitute in a number of the gardens at the Scott Arboretum in Swarthmore Pa. At 6-12" tall it grows well in dry shade and spreads about 6-10" per year. It associates well with almost any shade loving plant. Zones 4-8


2. Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium)

"Everywhere as far as the eye could reach, there was nothing but rough, shaggy, red grass." Willa Cathers words perfectly capture the beauty of little bluestem on the prairie. The grass works well as a stylized meadow or as a transition planting between a wild and cultivated area. At 2-3' tall it is commonly seen in disturbed areas along highways and edges of woodlands. The winter color is a remarkable half burnt orange. Zones 3-10

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3. Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepsis) 

Perhaps the most sublime of all the prairie grasses, Prairie Dropseed grows somewhat slowly but is well worth the wait. Eventually, the feathery clumps reach 18-24" wide by 30 or so inches tall with airy flowers appearing in late summer. The flowers have the fragrance of buttered popcorn or perhaps coriander. The fine textured deep green foliage turns an outstanding pumpkin orange in the fall. A large swath of "meadow" has been planted to Sporobolus at Chanticleer gardens in Wayne Pa. If you have not visited Chanticleer it is one of the truly innovative public gardens in the states.  Zones 3-8

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4. Wild Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium)

This 2-4 ft. tall clump-forming grass bears drooping, oat-like flower spikelets from slender, arching branches. During autumn the blue-green bamboo-like leaves turn a bright yellow-gold, especially in sunnier sites. Chasmanthium can be used as a specimen in small groups or as mass plantings. The most effective planting I have observed is at the entrance to Longwood Gardens in Kennet Square. Beneath the lacy canopies of Honeylocust set within the parking lot islands , the grass is planted in mass presenting a dense bamboo like appearance. It will reseed but the seedlings are scratched out fairly easily if they are addressed while they are young. Zones 4-9


5. Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris)

The fine textured, bright green foliage is fairly unremarkable, however, when the plant flowers it's shimmering, filmy purple to pink pannicles bring grace and drama to the garden. The grass is best used with a nurse crop around it to hide the foliage. Zones 5-10 

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