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Ornamental Grasses

Big BluestemBig Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) is a native grass; foliage 10-15" high. Flower heads reach 5-6'; September. Seed head resembles a turkey foot. Upright clump former; spreads by rhizomes. Gray-green foliage; light red fall color. Prefers sun and well drained soil. Divide in spring. `Pawnee’ (4-5'); `Bonilla’ (SD seed source); `Bison’ (ND seed source).

Large Blue Fescue (Festuca amethystina) is a fine textured, 12-18 inch grass that forms a tufted mound. Good blue color with amethyst colored flowering stems. Stem color best in June; cut flowering stems back in fall and foliage in the spring. Best in full sun and moderate to well drained soil; divide in spring. Tend to be short lived here. 'Bronzeglanz' (Bronzeluster) (green to blue gray foliage). 'Klose' (light blue foliage). `Superba’ (blue-green foliage; shorter).

Blue FescueBlue Fescue (Festuca cinerea) is very similar to F. ovina `Glauca’. The 6-10" clumps of blue foliage fade to a greenish blue color; very finely textured. Flowers detract from the foliage; remove. Clump former; will not fill in open areas. Clumps tend to die out in the center and need to be divided every 3 years; spring. Well drained soil is a necessity. Tend to be short lived here; mow down in spring for cleanup. `Elijah Blue’ (best of the blue fescues; short glaucous powdery blue foliage. No flowers). 'Sea Urchin' (more rigid and compact; sea green color). 'Solling' (short glaucous bluish grey-green foliage; no flowers).

Hardy or Rose Fountain Grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides) is a 2 to 3 foot tall grass with narrow arching bright green leaves that grow in a dense mound. Pinkish fox tail-like flower heads arch out above the foliage like a fountain; mature to rose copper seed heads; late summer. Golden yellow fall color. Best in full sun and well drained fertile soil. Needs winter protection. Divide every 5-10 years; spring. Space 24" apart; tend to be weedy. Marginally hardy. `Hameln' (shorter, more compact; flower heads are slightly smaller and are greenish-white. Self seeds; revert back to species).

Pink Fountain GrassPink Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum) (P. ruppelenianum) must be treated as an annual; has an arching growth habit. Spires of red to dusty pink flowers and seed heads; don’t dry well. Taller and more weak stemmed than hardy fountain grass; may require staking. Plant in groups; space about 1' apart. Takes heat and drought well. The dark green foliage dries to a clear, clean straw color; clumps look like tiny shocks of corn. May reseed. Start seed in mid March and transplant out in mid May; space 18-20". `purpurescens’ (purplish foliage and pink heads; must be grown from divisions).

White Fountain GrassWhite Fountain Grass (Pennisetum villosum) is very similar to rose fountain grass; 2' in height. Grow as an annual; tends to be weedy. Not worth growing.


Indian GrassIndian Grass (Sorgastrum nutans) is very common native grass; upright and clump forming. Variable in height, flowering time and lodging. Tan to orange fall color; good through the winter. Flower stems 4 to 6 feet tall; yellow-brown flowers in late summer and bronze-red seed heads. Very drought tolerant; likes good sun. Propagate by seed or division; spring. `Sioux Blue' (powder blue leaves; never needs staking. Self-sows manageably but seedlings may revert to species); `Holt’ (Nebr seed source); `Tomahawk’ (ND & SD seed source).

Little BluestemLittle Blue Stem (Schizachyrium scoparium or Andropogon scoparius) is a compact native grass; name is derived from the blue color at the base of the clump. Varies from bluish foliage in spring, to green in summer and various shades of red, orange, and pink in the fall; foliage is 12-18" in height with flower stems reaching 3-4'. Fuzzy white seed heads at maturity. Varies in form, height and lodging. Prefers sun and fairly infertile soils; very drought tolerant. Propagate by seed or divisions in spring. `Badlands’ (ND seed source); `Blaze’ (Nebraska seed source); `Camper’ (Nebraska seed source).

Blue Lyme GrassBlue Lyme Grass (Leymus or Elymus arenarius or glaucus) grows 24-30" in height; space 18-24" apart. Course blue foliage (3/4" wide leaves); one of the bluest grasses. Good in flower arrangements. Irregular growth habit and invasive rhizomes; consider planting in enclosed area. Usually doesn’t form heads; tall grey-green to yellow flower clusters in late summer that resemble wheat heads. Can be used along lake or sea shores. Prefers sun and well drained soil; likes hot, dry sites. Divide in early spring.

Giant MiscanthusGiant Miscanthus (Miscanthus floridulus or M.`Giganteus’) has huge, bamboo-like, long course leaves; rarely flowers. Slightly spreading upright clump; grows 7-8' in height and 3-4' wide. Usually loses lower leaves by late summer; tan fall color. Best in full sun under a wide range of soil and moisture conditions. Divide in early spring. Hardiness is questionable.

Japanese Silver Grass (Miscanthus sinensis) has coarse green foliage and is generally not grown.

Chinese Silver GrassChinese (Amur) Silver Grass (Pampasgrass, Silver Bannergrass) (Miscanthus sacchariflorus or M. s. amurensis) grows 4-5' in height. Long invasive rhizomes; spreads like quackgrass. Early flowering with narrow wisk-like plumes; very silver in appearance. Doesn’t set seed here. Tan to orange fall color. Useful for edges of ponds and streams. Prefers sun; does well in drought or soggy soil.

Red Flame Miscanthus or Flame Grass (M. sinensis `Purpurascens’ or M. purpurascens) is 3-4' tall with wide dark green leaf blades. Narrowly upright; never needs staking. One of the best Miscanthus. With good moisture, leaves will have a reddish cast by mid-summer; fall color is tan to orange. Flowers are a silvery white; late summer. Sun to light shade; better leaf color in higher light.

Other cultivars of Japanese Silver Grass: `Malepartus’ (flowers are 2' above foliage; purplish-pink flowers becoming fluffy and white upon drying. Early flowering; bronze- orange fall color; doesn’t need staking), `Silver Feather’ (`Silberfedher’) is a 5-6' tall, silky grass similar in appearance to Pampas grass. Medium green foliage and silvery-white plumes in September; rising 2' above leaves. May need staking even in full sun; tan fall color). `Strictus’ (Porcupine Grass) is 5-6' high, very attractive and has yellow streaks across the leaves. Borderline in hardiness; winter protection needed); `Variegatus’ (bold textured creamy white striped foliage; 4-5' tall and wide. Flowers in September. Weak stemmed; usually requires staking. Marginally hardy. `Zebrinus’ (Zebra Grass) (4-5' tall and very attractive; yellow streaks across the leaves. Borderline in hardiness; winter protection needed).

Small Japanese Silver Grass (Miscanthus oligostachyus) has short, wide bamboo-like leaves; 3-4' tall. Late July flowering; silver flowers. Forms a dense upright clump; soft tan fall color.

Heather Bride Purple Moor GrassPurple Moor Grass (Molinia caerulea) has a medium to fine texture; grows in tall narrow tufts. 1.5 to 2 feet tall; airy yellow flower stalks in late summer; yellowish fall color. Space 15-24" apart. Slow growing; prefers full sun and moist, well drained, acidic soil. Seems to do well here. Moist, humid growing conditions promote disease. `Heather Bride’ (more compact), 'Variegata' (longitudinally striped with creamy white; shorter than species. Best in light shade but will tolerate full sun with good moisture. Very marginal hardiness.)

Windspiel Tall Purple Moor GrassTall Purple Moor Grass (Molinia caerulea var. arundinacea) forms clumps with fine-textured, 2-3' foliage topped by 4-5', open, airy flowering stems in late summer. Yellow fall color; two or three years to flower. In late fall, stalks will shatter and break off at the ground. Slow growing. Best in full sun and moist, well drained, acidic soil; seems to do well here. Easily propagated by seed; named varieties must be propagated by division. 'Sky Racer' (robust upright clumps; 6-7' flower stems. Golden yellow fall color), 'Windspiel' (pencil-thin, 5-6' flower stalks; yellow fall color).

Blue Oats GrassBlue Oat Grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens or Avena sempervirens) has semi-evergreen, blue-gray foliage; fine to medium texture. The narrow, arching leaves grow 18 to 24 inches tall; floral heads reach up to three feet. Flowers are initially pale blue turning beige; summer. Sparse in northern areas. Space 12-15 inches apart. Non-invasive. Best in well drained neutral to alkaline soil; tolerates drought once established. Prefers sun but will tolerate partial shade; best with low humidity. More vigorous, longer lived and hardier than the fescues. Propagate by seed or division; spring.

Variegated Bulbous Oats GrassVariegated Bulbous Oat Grass (Arrhenatherum bulbosum `Variegatum’) has broad cascading leaf-blades 8-12" long with white margins; tuberous roots. Flowering is usually weak or absent. Space about 15" apart. If leaf tips brown, shear to the ground to promote new growth. Prefers sun to partial shade. Does well in any fertile soil; doesn’t like heavy soil. Tolerates poor and dry soils once established; slow growing. Grows best in cool spring and fall temperatures.

Fall Blooming Reed Grass or Korean Reed Grass (Calamogrotis brachytricha or C. arundinacea var. brachytricha) is an upright arching clump forming grass. Flower stalks reach 3-4' in height; foliage grows to about 18-24". Pink and purple flowers in September. Plant turns buff color after frost; heads persist into winter. Cut back in spring; emerges early. Space 18-24 inches apart. Good in sun or partial shade; may need water during dry periods. Propagate by seed or division; spring.

Karl Foerster Feather Reed GrassFeather Reed Grass (Calamogrotis x acutiflora) `Karl Foerster’ resembles wheat with its fluffy flower plumes; purplish-pink in late June, beige by August and last through winter. Dense, narrow, upright, clump former; dull green, coarse textured foliage to 2-3’ and flower stalks 4 feet tall; very nice. Plant in sun or light shade. Propagate by division in spring; sterile hybrid. `Overdam’ (green and white variegated foliage; slightly smaller and less vigorous than `Karl Foerster’). `Stricta’ (slightly taller than ‘Karl Foerster’; tends not to flower here)

Ribbon GrassRibbon Grass, Gardener's Garters (Phalaris arundinacea) is 18-24 inches in height; space 1-2' apart. Flowers are insignificant. In hot dry summers, leaf tips may brown; cut back for regrowth. Late season growth may revert partly back to green. Best in full sun to partial shade; less vigorous in shade. Leaf color fades in full hot sun. Performs well in moist soils. In fertile soil will become taller, lose variegation and become more aggressive. Invasive; spreads rapidly. Easily propagated by division; may be necessary on a regular basis. Divide in the spring. var. luteo-picta has yellow and pink stripes on the new foliage; green by midsummer. Cut back to encourage new growth; invasive. 'Feesey's Form’ (Strawberry & Cream) has better and longer lasting variegation. Nearly white foliage; often pink or reddish early in the season. Less aggressive than common form. `Picta’ has variegated green and white arching foliage; weakly upright growing. 

Sideoats GramaSideoats Grama (Bouteloua curtipendula) is a clump former; basal foliage growing to 12-15". Flowers (late summer) and purple oat-like spikelets form to one side of the stem; bleach to a beige color with age. May reach 2-3' in height. Foliage often turns shades of purple and copper-red in the fall. Prefers dry soil and full sun; good drought tolerance. Slowly invasive. Divide in spring. `Butte’ (taller; Nebr seed source); `Pierre’ (SD seed source); `Trailways’ (12-18' tall ; fine leafed).

Siberian Spike GrassSiberian (Silver) Spike Grass, Frost Grass or Graybeard Grass (Spodiopogon sibiricus) has one inch wide, green leaves, strongly angled upward when young, become horizontal in mid-season, offering a bamboo-like effect; stems 3' in height. White stripe down center of leaf. Very nice; one of the best grasses. Purple flower spikes grow about 14-18" above the foliage; late August. Seed heads persist until late fall. Fall color varies from red to wine-red or purple-bronze. Full sun for good fall color and sturdy, upright specimens. Does well in light shade; resents hot, dry sites. Divide or seed; spring.

Switch GrassSwitch Grass, Reed Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum) is a warm-season native grass. Use in mass where its fine-textured flowers and seed heads will produce a cloud like effect. Dense, upright growth habit; 3-7' when in flower. Green to blue-green foliage; takes on a beige color for winter. The light, airy flower panicles vary in color from green to pink. Forms with a reddish fall leaf color show more pink color in their flowers. Bloom in late July or early August. Foliage and flowers are effective in both fresh and dried arrangements. Best grown in full sun and fertile soil. Good in wet or dry soils; the more moisture, the taller it will grow. Tolerates some shade; too much shade reduce the intense fall color. Floppy habit if grown in medium to heavy shade. Propagated by seed; named cultivars must be increased by division; early spring.

Cultivars: `Dakotah’ (ND seed source); `Forestburg’ (SD seed source); 'Hanse Herms' (loose, upright foliage; 4-5'. Green with a red tinge in summer and red-burgundy in fall; red flowers); 'Heavy Metal' (stiffly upright; metallic blue leaves and yellow fall color. 4-5' tall; stands up well. Drought tolerant and non aggressive); 'Prairie Sky' (better foliage color, hardier, and has more vigor than `Heavy Metal’); 'Rehbraun' (red-tinged foliage and red flowers; fall color not as good as 'Haense Herms'). 'Rotstrahlbusch' (good red fall color; may be synonymous with 'Haense Herms'. Blue cast to the foliage; 5' in bloom); 'Squaw' (more compact; good red fall color); 'Strictum' (more upright. Light blue-green foliage; red-purple tints in fall. 'Warrior' (reddish brown fall color).

Todd Weinmann, Extension Horticulturist & Master Gardener Coordinator
Phone: (701) 241-5707

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