Gorgeous, Glorious, Glamorous Grasses
In the last blog I talked about how much I dislike lawns with turf grass (disclaimer, I have one, but it keeps getting smaller and smaller). Now I would like to investigate what to use in place of a lawn. I have come to really like ornamental grasses. I hated them in Ohio because they just looked out of place and people never took care of them. I was not happy to have bits of Pampas grass blowing all over my yard when I did not grow them. In the Lowcountry, they just look right and mirror our native marsh grasses.
The grasses I am suggesting are natives to this country if not this region. Why import something from Asia if you do not have to? Miscanthus sinensis has become very popular down here, but unfortunately, it has “escaped” into the wild and is becoming invasive. The species name “sinensis” tells you that it comes from China.
Probably the most popular grass in the Lowcountry is Muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) that enchants us each fall with its delicate pink flower heads. Did you know that there is also a white variety? Quite spectacular when in bloom,
Muhly grass looks pretty neat and tidy all year long. I cut mine back in February and it is easy to do.
I also like Northern Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium). This grass is sometimes called “fish on a pole” because of the oat like seed pods that hang from the stems. The foliage starts out green, goes to golden, and then to copper brown as the seasons progress. It just looks interesting all year long!
Another native that stretches from Canada to Mexico is Switchgrass or Panicum virgatum. Sometimes referred to as Indian grass, this particular species covered the prairies of North America and was a valuable food source for grazing animals. It is feathery and blows in the wind giving your garden movement and dynamism. Like Muhly grass, a shearing in late winter is all it needs for maintenance. The Perennial Plant Association named Panicum virgatum “Northwind” the 2014 Plant of the Year which signifies its importance as a garden plant.
One grass-like plant that is not native, but is good as a filler is Liriope or lily turf. It is a shade or part shade plant that spreads by rhizomes. I like mine in clumps, but it can be grown as a border along a walk way and there are also variegated varieties readily available. Another great shade plant is Carex. Carex is a sedge and there are over 1000 species of it. The most common one found in garden centers is Carex oshemensis “Everillo.” Carex stays colorful all year long and does not need to be trimmed back. It is a low growing sedge and thus is best at the front of a bed or border.
Put away the lawnmower and plant some of these grasses and sedges. They are better for wildlife than traditional lawn grasses and require little water and maintenance. You will have more time to enjoy life in the Lowcountry without a lawn to mow and maintain.