Native plants are pest resistant, require no fertilization, and provide habitat for birds, butterflies, and other pollinators. Once established, their roots boost the soil’s water-holding capacity, hold it together, and prevent erosion. Beneficial insects also spend the winter on grass stems and crowns.
Native grasses can be used as buffer plants and in bioswales to minimize runoff into the water table. Their root masses are capable of absorbing soluble nitrogen, which aids in the prevention of algal blooms.
In New York, the best grasses to grow are those that can withstand harsh weather.
1. Panicum virgatum (Switchgrass)
Panicum virgatum is a lovely vase-shaped grass featuring plenty of seasonal interest. Switchgrass is gorgeous and thrives in prairies or sunny gardens with moist, moderate, or dry soil.
A new crop of glaucous stems and beautiful bluish-green arching leaves emerge from the ground in the spring. The mature plants produce airy clusters of summer spikelets at the top. In the late evening, the tiny purple-tinged spikelets appear to dance above the leaves. The leaves and seeds in the fall and winter turn an amber color.
The plant grows naturally on grasslands, savannas, meadows, and other habitats. Unlike most prairie grasses, this one is more resistant to disturbance.
2. Eragrostis spectabilis (Purple Lovegrass)
Purple lovegrass is a hardy plant that thrives in harsh conditions. It’s a warm-season perennial grass with various colors and textures throughout the year. This beautiful grass grows well in sunny areas with poor, dry soil. It is a low-growing grass used as an accent or groundcover.
These small plants form a loose mound of blue-green blades in the spring. The foliage is crowned with hazy clouds of rosy-purple spikelets throughout the summer. As fall approaches, the foliage acquires a bronzy red patina, and the seeds turn to light beige colors.
3. Schizachyrium scoparium (Little Bluestem)
Little bluestem is a favorite garden ornamental due to the gorgeous colors it offers. It is a bunchgrass with fine-textured leaves that grow in dense mounds 18 to 24 inches tall
The stems acquire a blue tint in spring, which is how it got its name. Its reddish-tan color in the fall can also last through winter snows. In the fall, the thin blue-green stems turn a magnificent mahogany-red with white, dazzling seed tufts. The seeds, which grow to a fuzzy white, appeal to small birds in the winter.
4. Bouteloua gracilis (Blue Grama)
Blue grama flower clusters resemble eyebrows. When dried, they are light brown to dark brownish-blue in color. The grass is grown for fodder, landscaping, and erosion prevention. It is resistant to grazing and is frequently used in dried flower bouquets.
Leaves appear from mid-spring to summer. In most situations, flowering occurs during the summer. Blue grama is recognized by its hairless stems and the absence of an elongated flower spike.
5. Chasmanthium latifolium (Inland Sea Oats)
Chasmanthium latifolium is a perennial decorative grass native to North America. It has seed heads that start with a stunning lime green coloring, contrasting nicely with the much darker green leaves. The seed heads will turn browner as the season progresses, although the leaves will change color much more slowly.
The deep green leaf blades will begin to brown near the end of summer, but they will not acquire a lovely copper brown color until the first frost of winter.
Because Chasmanthium latifolium flowers are wind-pollinated, they are not appealing to pollinators. Although, many skipper caterpillars and several butterfly caterpillars can be found feeding on the foliage.
6. Carex pensylvanica (Pennsylvania Sedge)
Pennsylvania sedge’s thin, low-growing leaves make a beautiful green carpet. It spreads slowly via rhizomes and thrives when planted in large groups. It is a popular lawn substitute for residential landscaping because of its fine-textured leaves and creeping habit. However, it will not endure heavy foot traffic.
Carex pensylvanica can be grown in the sun in temperate climates as long as moisture levels are adequate; however, it is better suited for woodland gardens or shaded areas.
This late spring bloomer grows to a height of 8 inches. It is semi-evergreen and drought tolerant once established.
7. Andropogon gerardii (Big Bluestem)
Big bluestem, sometimes called turkey foot, is a warm-season perennial bunchgrass with blue-green stems growing 4 to 8 feet tall. It is taller than other varieties and was once extremely widespread.
The magnificent foliage changes from green to blue-green in the summer to a rich red-bronze in the fall and stays attractive throughout the winter. The late summer heat induces rapid height development and the emergence of the recognizable three-parted seed heads, which are thought to resemble a turkey’s foot.
Growth is controlled until midsummer, so it shouldn’t overwhelm other perennials early in the season. Plant it in groups as a border or screen or on its own as a tall accent plant.