Monday, January 5, 2009

Landscape - Plants with Interesting Winter Features III

This is the third in a series on plants with interesing winter features in the landscape.

In winter, grasses provide interest, with persistent seed heads, and by providing motion in an otherwise still landscape. Beyond the aesthetic value to the landscape, grasses serve a more vital purpose; primarily, they serve as habitat for many songbirds, game birds, butterfly larvae, and mammals.

The following are native warm-season grasses with good winter interest.

• Switchgrass. (Panicum virgatum). Clump-forming. Full sun. Height 3-5’. Medium-dry soil. Cultivars: ‘Shenandoah’, red switchgrass. Flowers red-pink in June, turns beige in winter. Persistent seed heads. Provides food and/or shelter for pheasants, quail, turkeys, doves, songbirds, and rabbits. ‘Cloud Nine’, ‘Heavy Metal’, and ‘Prairie Sky’ are all blue switchgrasses.

• Big bluestem. (Andropogon gerardii). Clump-forming. Full-sun or partial shade. Height 5-7’. Prefers moist soil but is adaptable. Provides shelter for nesting birds and insects, and food for songbirds and deer. Summer color: blue-green. Purple-shaded flowers resembling a turkey-foot appear July-October. Fall and winter color: orange to copper red. Cultivar: ‘Bison’ is adapted for northern climates. Best use: prairie gardens or wildflower meadows; as a backdrop for native plantings; or erosion control. Note: this is a rhizomatous grass that can become weedy if not controlled. It is also deep-rooting.

• Little bluestem. (Schizachyrium scoparium). Clump-forming. Full sun. Height 2-4’. Medium to dry soil. Provides food for songbirds and some game birds, and shelter for small mammals and ground birds. Summer color: blue tinge. Purple-bronze flowers in August. Fall color: foliage turns bronze-orange. Winter: persistent silver-white seed heads.

• Indiangrass. (Sorghastrum nutans). Clump-forming. Full sun. Height 4-6’. Moist to dry soils. Provides food for deer. Flowers copper-red in August. Fall: foliage turns orange to golden-brown. Winter: persistent plume-like seed heads.

Bushy Bluestem, Another native grass with winter interest. Photo by Richard Old,

Information reprinted in part from "Native Grasses provide fall interest, winter color, and wildlife food and shelter" by Karen Layton, Penn State Master Gardener

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