Some Grasses in Winter

Northern Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium), does keep its handsome looks in winter. The seedheads seem to shatter over a long period.


Some people like the common name “River Oats”, which sounds less awkward.


Don’t know about you, but I find winter light really challenging for taking pictures. Either it’s dark and grey so everything has a flat look, or the sun is shining so low in the sky that it takes a lot of effort to avoid the glare.


Anyway, whether you call it River Oats or Northern Sea Oats, this plant is unrelated to actual oats (Avena sativa), except that they are both grasses.

‘Shenandoah’ Switchgrass

Many native plant advocates feel strongly about using straight species rather than cultivars. They have some persuasive arguments on their side. Even so, I’ve gotta say that ‘Shenandoah’ Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) is far superior to the species for use in the home garden.


I planted another 3 ‘Shenandoah’ last fall: 2 in the Lamppost Bed and 1 in the Parkway Bed. They were looking pretty miserable on the shelf at the Home Depot, as if they were crying out to me for rescue. Plus, they were only $3 each.

Aside from the red foliage and stem color, ‘Shenandoah’ has the advantage of more compact size AND it is much better about staying upright.

Straight species Switchgrass

Personally, I’m drawn to the greater height and looser habit of straight Switchgrass, though that can make it harder to place.


However, in my book the big negative with the straight species is that it tends to flop over, especially in winter after a few inches of wet snow have fallen.

Do you have a favorite grass for the winter garden?

37 Comments on “Some Grasses in Winter”

  1. I do love grasses in winter and Panicums can be floppy. I love them anyway.The happiest so far has been an older planting and I cannot remember which species it is! River Oats is by far the best looking one for winter photos, unless there’s snow, which we rarely have.

  2. I love switchgrass but my favorite is Little Bluestem. (I’d spell the Latin name but my phone autocorrect goes crazy)

    It has beautiful autumn color (a nice rich cinnamon), stands up well to snow here in the northeast AND birds love the seeds. It’s entertaining to watch a tree sparrow hop on a stalk and ride it as it bends down. Juncos and song Sparrows like it, too. It’s native here in Maine.

  3. Big and Little Bluestems are favorites here and both hold up beautifully through winter. Big Bluestem is a whopper though, so you can’t pop them in anywhere and my husband isn’t a huge fan of them.
    How do you find the thuggishness of Northern Sea Oats? I love their seed heads, but have heard it referred to as aggressive and a rampant grower… what is your experience?

  4. I’m planning on adding Shenandoah switchgrass to one of the beds this year – lucky you to make such a find at Home Depot – I’ll have to get it from a proper nursery together with the premium price. I quite like nursing “sad” plants back to health – it’s so exciting to watch them flourish in our care (most of the time, anyhow!).

  5. Little bluestem has to be my favorite. It keeps its color for such a long time, and to my eye is prettier than bushy bluestem. I smiled at your oats. I’m quite fond of that plant, too, but down here we don’t call it River Oats or Northern Sea Oats; for us, it’s Inland Sea Oats.

  6. Hi Jason. I am trying out some Stipa tenuissima… it may or may not be hardy enough for us, but we will see. It is fairly short and very upright and adds nice little tufts between lower growing plants. We had -10°C last night and the recent snow has melted so it is pretty exposed to the cold. I will report in spring if it has survived!

  7. Hello Jason, we don’t have any grasses in the winter (not counting bamboo), it’s something that’s missing from the garden but we’re very wary of the self-seeding and spreading habit of some grasses so we’ll take a cautious approach and try to find the “well behaved” ones.

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