Some time ago, a blog reader asked us to suggest ornamental grasses for Minnesota gardens. Since parts of Minnesota were once part of the “sea of grass” of the Great Plains, grasses look natural here and are well-adapted to our climate and soils. They are a great addition to most Minnesota gardens.
Grasses are easy to grow and, once established, require minimal maintenance. They can be left standing in the winter, where the seedheads will capture ice crystals and the tall forms will stand up in the snow. They are best cut down early in spring. (That's about the only maintenance you have with grasses.) The most common problem with grasses is that they flop over (sometimes called lodging), but that is easily corrected by backing off on the fertilizer.
So which grasses look great in Minnesota? For the full list and lots of good advice on grasses, check out Mary Meyer’s book, Ornamental Grasses for Cold Climates, but here are a few of our favorites.
Karl Foerster feather reed grass is so popular it’s almost a grass cliché, but it’s popular for a reason. It looks majestic winter or summer, is extremely easy care and hardy in most parts of Minnesota. It looks best in a grouping of three to seven plants at the back of a border or even as a grass hedge.
Little Bluestem is a Minnesota native grass. Its name comes from the blue hue of the grass blades. In September, the blades turn a vibrant pink-red, which looks lovely with fall flowers. Little bluestem forms neat clumps and is pretty in all seasons. Blue Heaven little bluestem is a University of Minnesota introduction that is taller than the native, making it a great option for more formal garden spaces. Bluestem adapts to a variety of soils and is a good choice in poor soil conditions.
Prairie dropseed is a plant recommended by Northern Natives columnist Lynn Steiner. This petite grass could be used in any situation where a sedge might be used. It looks tidy virtually all year long, growing to less than 2-feet tall and drooping gently. The grass-stems even have a light scent of cilantro. Maintenance could not be easier: Cut it back in the spring and call it a day.
Silver feather grass is the plant to plant if you want a show-stopper. This giant reaches up to 8 feet tall and 5 feet wide with showy plumes in late summer to fall. Deer and bunnies aren't interested in it and it can even be used as a screen.
Variegated moor grass is a good choice for smaller gardens or areas with wet soil. It grows to under 18 inches in height and spread and has a vibrant color and a waterfall look. However, moor grass requires consistently moist soil so it's an option near ponds. It can get by with partial sun, so consider it for shadier spots.
These are a few of our favorites. Which grasses do you like best?