Much of Minnesota and the Dakotas are remnants of the tall-grass prairie that once covered thousands of square miles of the North American continent. That may be why northern gardeners love prairie grasses so much in their home gardens. Prairie grasses look natural here, and covered with hoar frost or buried in snow, they provide interest in winter. They are also beautiful in fall, their golden stalks and creamy flowerheads waving in the wind.
‘Karl Foerster’ feather reed grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’) is one of the most popular ornamental grasses for the North. Growing 3 to 4 feet tall, with creamy white flowers, ‘Karl Foerster’ is an easy-care option for hedging or to use as a specimen plant among prairie-style perennials and shrubs. Like most grasses, Karl Foerster thrives in full sun (six or more hours a day), but otherwise asks for little. It grows well in most soils in either wet or dry sites. Maintenance involves cutting it back in spring and leaving it alone the rest of the year. Don’t delay too much in cutting the grass back in spring, as this is one of the first grasses to come up in spring.
If your yard does not allow for a tall grass like Karl Foerster, here are two shorter, equally lovely options.
Prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepsis) is a petite grass that looks tidy virtually all year long. It stays under 2 feet tall, and the flower stems bend over gracefully in fall. Brush past the stems and you can smell a light scent of cilantro.
Sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula) is a native grass in Minnesota and much of North America. Its name comes from the flowers that emerge on one side of the stalks and can be striking in late summer and fall. Growing 1 to 3 feet tall, it tolerates dry conditions, but does not like to be shaded.
Do you have a favorite grass for your garden?