An ordinary grass lawn can be take a lot of work and it’s pretty boring looking too. But you can transform your lawn into an extraordinary display of interesting foliage and blooms that changes each week.
Replace typical lawn grass with native wildflowers, grasses and ground covers, and you’ll have a lawn that needs little more than annual mowing. Once established, a lawn full of native plants almost never needs watering, which will make your lawn the most attractive in your neighborhood when drought turns all the other yards brown.
Returning the grassy area of your yard to a meadow of native plant species will also attract birds, butterflies, and beneficial insects to your yard.
One important maintenance rule for growing healthy, attractive native ornamental grasses is to cut back the foliage at least once a year. Cutting back is a substitute for the processes of burning and grazing that take place in natural grassland ecology. Spring burning in nature removes last year’s growth and exposes the soil to the warming rays of the sun, a boost for newly emerging grasses.
Caring for Ornamental Grasses
Although many native ornamental grasses prefer to be burned in nature, that is dangerous and not recommended for the home gardener.
Instead, cut back ornamental grasses just before or as the new season’s growth begins to appear. If you cut most grasses back in late winter, it allows you to enjoy the glories of winter foliage.
In mild climates, some warm-season grasses such as kangaroo grass (Themeda spp.) are sheared in September to force new growth for the fall. This sacrifices the flowers, but the resulting fall foliage is showy.
Cut warm season grasses to within a few inches of the ground. Cut cool-season grasses to two-thirds of their full size.
Use a pair of sharp hand pruners to do the cutting. You can use a string trimmer to cut large clumps of soft grasses.
Native Grasses and Wildflowers for Every Region
Here’s a big list of meadow plants for various US regions.
Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), broomsedge (Andropogon virginicus), silver bluestem (Andropogon ternarius), tickle grass (Agrostis haemalis), blanket flower Gaillardia aristata, G. pulchella), plains coreopsis (Coreposis tinctoria), lance-leaved coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata), black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), showy primrose (Oenothera speciosa), southern ragwort (Senecio aureus), butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa).
Height: 1 1/2 -2 feet.
Maintenance: Mow no lower than 4-6 inches once a year, best in late winter.
Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), broomsedge (Andropogon virginicus), sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula), red top (Agrostis alba), yellow Maryland aster (Chrysopsis mariana), blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium), pussytoes (Antennaria plaginifolia), crested iris (Iris cristata), wild geranium (Geranium maculatum), bird’s-foot violet (Viola pedata), butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa).
Height: 1 1/2-2 feet.
Maintenance: Mow no lower than 4-6 inches once a year, best in late winter/early spring.
Wiregrass (Aristida stricta), bottlebrush three-awn (Aristida spiciformis), pinewoods dropseed (Sporobolus junceus), sunshine mimosa (Mimosa strigillosa), twinflower (Dyschoriste oblongifolia), gopher apple (Licania michauxii), wild petunia (Ruellia caroliniensis), dwarf blanket flower (Gaillardia x grandifloria, Gaillardia pulchella).
Height: 12-15 inches; grass seed heads will be higher
Maintenance: Use string trimmer or swing blade to remove seed heads but don’t cut lower than 10 inches
Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans), sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula), purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), gayfeather (Liatris punctata), prairie clover (Petalostemum purpureum), compassplant (Silphium laciniatum), mountain mint (Pycnanthemum verticillatum), partridge pea (Cassia fasciculata), Culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginicum), cupplant (Silphium perfoliatum), wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), oxeye sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides), butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), prairie coreopsis (Coreopsis palmata), sky blue asters (Aster azureus), New England aster (Aster novae-angliae), queen of the prairie (Filipendula rubra), nodding onion (Allium cernuum), turk’s-cap lily (Lilium superbum), yellow prairie coneflower (Ratibida pinnata), black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium), stiff goldenrod (Solidago rigida), Joe-pye weed (Eupatorium maculatum).
Height: 4-8 feet.
Maintenance: Mow once a year in early spring before new growth begins.
Blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis), buffalograss (Buchloe dactyloides), purple three-awn (Aristida purpurea), sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula), sand verbena (Abronia fragrans), desert marigold (Baileya multiradiata), wine cup (Callirhoe involucrata), pastel poppy (Eschscholzia caespitosa), California poppy (Eschscholzia californica), showy primrose (Oenothera speciosa), prairie zinnia (Zinnia grandiflora), perky Sue (Hymenoxys argentea), sand penstemon (Penstemon ambiguus), pagoda penstemon (Penstemon angustifolius).
Height: 2 feet.
Maintenance: Cut in late winter no lower than 6 inches.
Blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis), purple needlegrass (Nassella [formerly Stipa] pulchra), Idaho fescue (Festuca idahoensis), meadow barley (Hordeum brachyantherum), Pacific coast iris (Iris munzii, I. Fernaldii, I. Purdyi, I. Innominata, and others), California fuchsia (Zauschneria californica), tidytips (Layia platyglossa), California poppy (Eschscholzia californica), blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium bellum).
Height: 12-18 inches.
Maintenance: Cut once a year in late winter/early spring; no lower than 5 inches.
Shirley Darby says
For Midwest/Prairie States, buffalo grass! Our home is on an older section of Topeka, KS. We bought plugs from Todd Valley Farms in Nebraska, and planted the portion of our lawn that isn’t devoted to ornamentals. A corner section of a flower bed along the curb and driveway has some old buffalo grass that was growing alongside fescue when we bought the house. We encourage it, and it has spread in to the flower bed. I refer it to it as the “historic lawn.” Perhaps the original 1886 lawn was buffalo grass! After all, the land where Topeka stands was originally native prairie. Mowing is optional, but we do mow on occasion, mostly when the grass has browned, in the proper season. Watering is minimal, and sometimes not needed, depending on rainfall.
Karina Guenther says
You don’t have rocky mountain region like Colorado. While the east is prairie, the foothills and mountains are very different.