Tall Grass in August

It’s been a hot summer with plenty of rain. The ornamental grasses in our garden remain an almost luminous green, and most seem taller than usual.


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Northern Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) is really more a grass of savannas and woodlands, rather than a prairie grass.

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However, it thrives in the sunny Sidewalk Border.

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One of the best grasses for catching the late afternoon sun, in my opinion.

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‘Northwind’ Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) is most certainly a prairie grass. This year it is over 6 feet tall.

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The Switchgrass has required some assistance to keep it from flopping after the last round of heavy rain. I sometimes think I should have planted one of the shorter cultivars, one that would be easier to manage and not so dominating. But oh, those airy plumes in late summer!

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In the Lamppost Bed, my patch of Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) has a serious case of the flopsies. Rich soil and too much moisture, I suspect, are the culprits.

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Little Bluestem ‘Jazz’

I planted the straight species and two varieties: ‘Jazz’ and ‘Carousel’. Of these, ‘Jazz’ has proven to be the least floppy. I like the blue color, which is supposed to turn purple in fall.

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Little Bluestem ‘Carousel’

I like the striped appearance of ‘Carousel’, but this cultivar is simply too lax in its present home. It is almost as floppy as the straight species.

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A single ‘Shenandoah’ Switchgrass grows at the rear of the Little Bluestem patch. It is short for a Panicum and thoroughly upright. ┬áThe blades of grass are starting to turn red.

I’m thinking I will replace ‘Carousel’ and the straight species Little Bluestem. I don’t want to throw them on the compost, so I’m going to relocate then outside the alley fence. Their places in the Lamppost Garden will be taken by ‘Shenandoah’.

Have you tried growing Switchgrass or Little Bluestem?

I’m linking this post to Garden Bloggers’ Foliage Day, hosted by Christina of My Hesperides Garden.

36 Comments on “Tall Grass in August”

  1. Yes, I have some little blue stem in my garden. I planted it last year. It hasn’t done much as yet. I don’t know if it will live even. It has been sort of a disappointment to me. Maybe the soil is too rich for it. I do have the oat grass. It is great especially this time of year when those little oats are formed. It makes a great dried grass ornament.

  2. I love the way the grasses gleam in the sun. So lovely! I have planted any in my gardens. As the years go on—and with many plants lost—I’ve become much less adventurous and stick to the tried and true.

  3. Plain Little Bluestem is hopelessly floppy for me as well (as was ‘The Blues’ and ‘Blaze’). I’ve had amazing luck with ‘Blue Heaven’…I think it would work well for you…and it’s beautiful! I’ve had quite a few Panicums over the years, ‘Northwind’ can be a little lax, but it generally pretty upright. I’ve had trouble with others, ‘Heavy Metal’ can flop quite a bit, as can ‘Dallas Blues’. ‘Shenandoah’ is pretty much trouble-free, and ‘Cheyenne Sky’ is a little shorter and even better (color-wise).

  4. I am having problems with floppy grass too, as, I think, conditions have been so ideal for it that it has put on loads of growth very quickly. Too lazy to stake, I am cutting them off at the knee, unless they have lovely seedheads. I don’t grow the varieties you do, my current favourite is Molinia, which is lovely and airy.Do you grow it ?

  5. I’ve grown both.

    Little bluestem has not done well for me. Many of them seem to have rotted out (heavy clay that retains water) over the past few years, despite the fact they were planted on a slope. They were beautiful the first year, but have gone downhill ever since (no pun intended).

    As for switchgrass, I grow both Northwind and Heavy Metal.

    Northwind gets huge (6 feet tall?) but then flops and splays dreadfully in the wind and rain. It’s also looking very … crispy this August.

    I’ve had better luck with Heavy Metal, which does not grow nearly as tall (maybe 4 feet tops?) but tends to stay more upright and greener through summer.

    Truth be told, I’m not too keen on ornamental grasses at the moment (gasp!) but I am experimenting with some native sedges and I do like blue-eyed grass (actually in the lily family – Sisyrinchium angustifolium – which is native to Illinois too, fyi (http://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=SIAN3)

  6. Great photo of the switchgrass in front of the Rudbeckia! It’s not easy getting a good photo of it. My ‘Northwind’ is still a youngster, but we have several stands of it at the nursing home where I volunteer, and it is huge! I think we’re going to have to divide it next year, a job I’m not looking forward to. I don’t have a lot of grasses in my garden, but ‘Shenandoah’ is one of my favorites, too, and I like its much more manageable size.

  7. I can’t say rich soil is the culprit in my Little Bluestem floppyness, as soil out here is heavy clay — should be ideal, no? Even the straight species, which I grow in a prairie setting, has proved to be a bit troublesome. Last year I augmented the slope of my ditch garden with a full flat of it, but less than half took. This year I planted a gap with ‘Jazz’ which is quite lovely now. However, my experience is that they begin to flop in their second or third year. Let’s hope!

    One grass I’ve grown quite fond of is Bouteloia gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition’. You might want to give that one a look.

  8. Great photos, I love the Northern Sea Oat grass, i see it goes by many names. In our market it is called Inland Sea Oat grass. I believe it is the same http://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=CHLA5 Here it grows wild and does very well if you don’t mind it popping up in various places in your garden. I love the way it catches the breeze and looks so lovely in the Autumn. I am happy people are really enjoying native ornamental grasses more and more.

  9. I’m going to have to rethink my non-floppy grass recommendations. My poor soil must grow them leaner since I rarely have any problems with them falling apart…. except for a few of the variegated and striped miscanthus.
    I never even suspected ‘Nothwind’ could flop even if it wanted to!

  10. Beautiful! No, I’ve never grown most of these grasses, with the exception of Northern Sea Oats. Thanks to recommendations from other bloggers including you, I’ve had Sea Oats in the garden for a couple of years now. Because of the shade, that’s one of the only grasses that really thrives here. Amazing photos!

  11. My switchgrass is shorter than yours, but just as floppy after a rain. I plan to relocate it one of these days. My sea oats need to be moved as well, as their current spot no longer gets enough sun for them. My blue stems are still getting established, but they are in a bed that is kind of dry, so no flopping there… yet!

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