Prairie Grasses in Winter

During winter the winds come in crisp and invigorating from across the prairies.  At this season of the year the landscape assumes a dreary look to many who do not understand.  But to others, when the gray arms of the cottonwood are illuminated by the January sun and silhouetted against the blue sky, when sleeping buds are covered with frost sparkling in the winter sun, when the dormant life of millions of flowers is covered with a blanket of snow, when rich plowed fields await the seed that is to feed the millions, and gray and lavender clouds beckon you over the prairies, the landscape sings a song of rich tonal beauty, a great prelude to dawn, a reminder before the resurrection of life.

  Jens Jensen


 Prairie Grasses in Winter

snow front yard & parkway

Winter in my front yard and parkway.  Growing in a whorled, arching mound, 1-2’ tall and around, the coppery bronze blades of Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis) catch and hold light snow.

Little Blue Grass winter

All the grasses are exquisite, but the star of the winter prairie is Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium).  A clumping grass, Its blades turn to copper in the fall and remain colorful all winter, exquisite against a background of alabaster snow.

My beautiful picture

Little Bluestem is found in the wild on well-drained slopes of sandy or gravelly soils, on the foredunes of Lake Michigan, and dry to mesic prairies.

LBS terrace geneva river park

Little Bluestem growing on an east-facing terraced slope at Geneva River Park.

Little Bluestem has not performed well for me.  The clumps diminish within a couple of years, although it seeds itself about, mostly next to the alkaline concrete sidewalk.

What has been your experience wit Little Bluestem?

prairie dropseed winter bench

Prairie Dropseed at River Park in Geneva,  Prairie Dropseed doesn’t hold up as well as Little Bluestem in heavy snow.

Prairie Dropseed snow

More Prairie Dropseed.  Prairie Dropseed is found most often in mesic prairies.  There’s no finer grass for a home garden than this.  Plant it in large swaths interspersed with Pale Purple Coneflower or Purple Prairie Clover.

Palm sedge winterThe palm tree-like structure of Palm Sedge (Carex muskingumensis) shows off beautifully against the snow.  A running sedge, it grows up to 3’ tall.   Palm Sedge is found in woods near streams and in wet woodland  pockets.

Prairie grasses and sedges add so much character and beauty to the landscape in summer, fall, and winter, in addition to keeping the soil hydrated.  If you don’t have any now, put them on your list to plant this coming year.

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