Native Grasses for Home Landscaping
Native Grasses for Home Landscaping
by Rhonda Allen
Here are a few recommendations for planting native bunch grasses in your home landscape. Grasses add appeal to most landscapes with their arching, waving, and complimentary structural form. There is quite a VARIETY IN SIZE, so make note of the space you will need.
Purple Three Awn, Aristida purpurea
The reddish flowers of this plant are what inspire its common name. It grows to about 2 ft tall, swaying freely in the breeze.
Overall, this species has a fountain-like form with leaves that are just loose enough to have a slight arching shape. With a monthly watering, purple three awn will adapt well to most valley landscapes, and is a great alternative to the invasive fountain grasses sold at nurseries.
Blue grama grass, Bouteloua gracilis ( Sometimes called Mosquito grass)
This drought tolerant grass will grow in most soil types as long as it isn’t too wet. It is a small clump grass that may reach 18” tall that produces flower heads resembling eyebrows. This hardy plant definitely will be a welcome addition to most any home landscape.
Deergrass, Muhlenbergia rigens
If you have room for a larger grass, try deer grass. It has leaves that reach about 3 ft long, with flower spikes that extend out in a ray.
It is especially well suited for the Central Valley due to its love for warm weather and its preference for sandy, well-draining soils. If you can meet those needs, deergrass will reward you with its attractive leaves and its ability to reduce erosion. This California native is both drought tolerant and beautiful. It’s a warm-season, clumping bunchgrass that grows naturally in many central and Southern California plant communities. Plant it alone or in a grouping for its blonde seed heads, which offer fall texture and color. It looks best when it’s cut back during the winter months for a refreshed growth. Although it’s a clumping grass, it can be divided during winter as well.
Deer grass grows quickly but does not reseed easily. It provides bird food, nesting material and shelter. This grass was used by Native Californians for basket making.
Giant blue wild rye
Here’s another large clump grass. The silvery blue rhizomatous foliage has broad leaf blades that are a bold addition to the landscape. It’s very versatile in its tolerance of a variety of conditions, but looks best in full sun with some irrigation. Giant wild rye reaches 3 to 4 feet tall and stands very erect. Cut back in fall, as it will begin pushing out new blades in winter.
Berkeley sedge, Carex tumulicola
This bright green grass grows to about a foot tall and two feet wide with attractive seed heads. It will do well in full sun or with some shade. It is drought tolerant but looks better with some irrigation. It is a clumping grass that could provide a meadow look to your landscape.
Purple Needlegrass, Stipa pulchra
Purple Needle Grass is an excellent native grass for use in low-water landscaping. Fire tolerant, it mixes beautifully with other native grasses.
Usually considered an evergreen grass, purple needlegrass grows most actively from March-June, producing the loose, feathery, slightly nodding, cream-colored flower panicles in May. In June, flowers turn a purple color as they form their needle-like seeds. Purple needlegrass flowers are wind pollinated. Purple needlegrass became the California State Grass in 2004. It is considered a symbol of the state because it is the most widespread native California grass and it helps suppress invasive plant species and support native oaks. This plant is easy to grow, though it can be crowded out and shaded by other more aggressive plants. Reseeds easily.