Planting grasses on a slope by tall trees

cactusgardenJune 3, 2011

I am challenged trying to plant an attractive grass garden just east of a jungle of a neighbors backyard. Tall volunteer trees/saplings mess lining the entire west side next to my property in the back. Awful. Really bad.

The goal is to plant things that will not lean away from the overwhelming trees and stand straight up on a downward slope. I get sun all morning until around 1:30pm. Grasses are the only thing I have found that will not lean east. Perennials and shrubs fail and make you want to turn your head sideways to view it. However, I am finding some grasses also lean.

So far, the bluestems work fine. Miscanthus are fine as well as both Sacaton Alkali and Giant Sacaton (thank goodness, I'd hate to have 10 feet tall leaning grasses). The biggest challenge is finding taller grasses that don't lean, short ones seem to do better.

Pennisetum 'Karley Rose' is leaning very badly toward more afternoon light and tends to grow vertical to the sloping ground as well. Not looking good at all, bad choice for slopes. Don't believe the "does well in partial shade" info. IT LEANS BADLY. The Panicum Northwind had to be terraced because it tends to grow at a 45 degree angle to the ground and it needed better water absorption so I amended the soil deeply yesterday with sand and organic matter, made a flat "shelf" for it to grow on and put a ridge around the clumps to collect more water and have less run off. The P. 'Northwinds' at the lower end of the property where water inevitably drains down are twice as thick and tall. Its just hard to water a slope and these like water.

I am wondering if anyone else is dealing with growing grasses on a slope because I am finding some grasses definitely do better than others in this situation. Any suggestions of grasses, especially tall/medium ones, to definitely avoid (like P. 'Karley Rose'!) would be appreciated. I just put in an order for 8 'Blue Heaven' Little Bluestem at the SRG Spring 1/2 off sale as a 'Karley Rose' replacement. They work great on slopes!

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Great minds work alike. On the 24th of May, I received fifteen one-quart 'Blue Heaven' Little Bluestems from Kurt Bluemel. They're nice full specimens, and I look forward to playing with them. Web photos of the mature plant look gorgeous.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2011 at 7:25AM
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I meant to include a suggestion to try some Chasmanthium on your slope. The new variegated 'River Mist' is really nice, and I've grown the species in every exposure from mostly shade to full sun successfully. The species is a self-seeder, and 'River Mist' is also reputed to do it (all green, unfortunately), but it's easy to control. I love the bamboo look of the foliage, and the seed heads are distinctive.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2011 at 7:30AM
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I fell in love with the 'Blue Heaven' searching the other night. Its reported to be taller and straighter than other cultivars. We shall see. Sure wish I had 15 quarts!

Thanks for the suggestion. My theme is dry mesic prairie so any kind of bamboo look would be out of place. That was part of the problem with the Pennisetum as well. I may have to throw in the towel on trying some of the tall grasses there. I am stretching the limits I know. The lower mounding kinds work fine. Maybe it will just end up a bluestem garden. Thankfully the late afternoon sun comes through those awful trees and I do get the backlighting.

I am going to get some big rocks and terrace the area to be horizontal in spots. Right now I am just pushing up ridges of dirt for temporary purposes. Got a soaker hose too.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2011 at 3:46PM
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On the subject of little bluestem. Here in the city, the Historical Museum planted, on large hills with big rocks, a lot of some variety of it. Some get quite a bit of afternoon shade and others are in more sun but all seem to do quite well visually standing straight and tall.

The thing is, I have no idea what variety this is. Its is very tall, extremely vertical with straight dense leaves that are a striking solid dark metallic blue without a hint of red or purple. Taller than any I have seen anywhere and they don't look anything like what I see growing wild. Then the seed heads are at least up to your thighs in the fall. I am going to collect seeds this fall. Also, there are volunteers coming up in the grass and I have it in mind to go out and collect a few. (can you do that?) They just get mowed anyway. I guess I should try to get permission to "weed" the lawn.

Got any ideas what kind this might be?

    Bookmark   June 3, 2011 at 4:09PM
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No idea. Ask the groundskeeper at the museum. They usually love to talk about their plantings.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2011 at 4:56PM
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