Great Grasses for Maryland Landscapes

What are some beautiful plants that are relatively easy to maintain and unappealing to deer? Take a look at the ornamental and native grasses!

Little bluestem grass

Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) ‘Standing Ovation.’ Photo: Mikaela Boley

Ornamental grasses are plants that provide year-round beauty, texture, persistent ground cover, erosion control, and a variety of additional benefits. They are:

  • Available in many heights and forms suitable for different landscape situations
  • Helpful in trouble spots like slopes or places where a living screen is desired
  • Relatively easy to maintain by pruning back once each year
  • Generally distasteful to deer.

If you are planning to add native plants to your landscape, add a few grasses to the mix. Grasses provide winter shelter for beneficial insects and seeds for birds. Some even have interesting associations with small butterflies called skippers. For example, the Leonard’s Skipper uses little bluestem, switchgrass, poverty oatgrass, and bentgrass as host plants. That means that when these insects are in their juvenile stage (caterpillars), they can only feed on these types of grasses to survive. As adult skippers, they fly off to feed on the nectar of other flowering plants. They are delightful to watch “skipping” around a butterfly garden!

ornamental grasses in winter

Ornamental grasses provide textural interest in a garden in the winter. Here they are beautiful in combination with remnant seedpods and the red berries of winterberry holly in the background. Photo: C. Carignan

There are about 350 species of grasses in Maryland. They are the primary plants found in native meadows and there are even grasses, such as Eastern bottlebrush grass (Elymus hystrix), that thrive in our state’s shaded woodland areas.

Eastern bottlebrush grass

Eastern bottlebrush grass (Elymus hystrix) Photo: Chris Evans, University of Illinois, Bugwood.org

The Maryland Native Plant Society has named 2020 “The Year of the Grasses”. All year long, through their monthly events and plant walks, you can learn about Maryland’s grasses and their native habitats.

Ornamental and native grasses are readily available at garden centers and native plant sales. Be sure to avoid invasive ones like Chinese silvergrass (Miscanthus sinensis).

switchgrass

Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) ‘Shenandoah’. Photo: Mikaela Boley

For some great choices, check out my colleague Mikaela Boley’s excellent guide to Ornamental and Native Grasses for the Landscape on the Home & Garden Information Center website.

If you already have ornamental grasses in your landscape, now is a good time to prune them. Grasses that turn brown in the winter should be cut down to about 2″ above the ground in early spring before new growth begins.

By Christa K. Carignan, Coordinator, Digital Horticulture Education, University of Maryland Extension Home & Garden Information Center. Read additional posts by Christa.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: