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Native Grass Gardens

Posted by cactusgarden 7OK (My Page) on
Mon, Jul 4, 11 at 2:55

Last year I fell in love with native grasses and wanted to share some pictures with other Oklahoma Gardeners in case someone else might be interested in the idea. It was because of this garden at the History Museum that is all planted in prairie grasses. I took some pictures last month. They don't do it justice, grasses are hard to capture so if you are ever by there, go see it. Only the purple three awn was blooming at this time. Its much prettier in late summer and fall, a mass of seed heads shimmering in the sun. If there is anything we can and maybe should be growing more of here in Oklahoma its native grasses? Drought hardy. They have quite a few Desert Willows and other native trees growing there as well.

Here is a book I have checked out of the Library over and over in case anyone else is interested. I am now in the process of establishing areas in native grasses this year and its challenging trying to visualize. The photos below are the History Museum and then the book and some grass gardens by John Greenlee. He is called the Guru of Grasses and has been starting a trend of natural grasses replacing traditional lawns and gardens.

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Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Native Grass Gardens

  • Posted by tmlgn 7 TX High Plains (My Page) on
    Mon, Jul 4, 11 at 8:32

The pictures are beautiful. I use a lot of grasses, wildflowers, and shrubs around my place that are native to the Llano Estacado and its bordering canyonlands.

Your pictures inspire me to do a better job with composition and maintenance. While in a normal growing season the garden is alive with butterflies and other insects and movement in the wind, too often it looks kind of weedy. A few people around here say they like it, but most give the damning "That's interesting" if they feel they have to mention it at all and the most common unsolicited comment is "Do you have a lot of snakes."

Tom Logan


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RE: Native Grass Gardens

I just checked out that American Meadow Gardens book from our library a few days ago! It's great!


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RE: Native Grass Gardens

The contrasts of textures in the last two photos is beautiful and very dramatic. So are the rocks. I guess I'm agreeing that composition is important. It would be a great setting for a really good piece of sculpture. I would have to go to a city council meeting and explain what I was doing to prevent getting "mow your yard" signs posted.


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RE: Native Grass Gardens

Cactus, those are really beautiful photos. Thanks so much for posting them. I love the composition and the juxtaposition of shapes and textures. I've wanted to try some grasses for a long time, but could never decide or what or where. Since I have a flat gardening spot and no access to any of the lovely big rocks, I'll need to be careful in the positioning. Still, those photos are really encouraging. I'll definitely see if the book is in our Shawnee interlibrary system. I think I can get books from as far away as Norman and Blanchard, so I hope they have it.

While I'm at it, I was just showing your own garden photos to my daughter and admiring them again. Your own composition is pretty terrific also. I see that some of the plants are well established. Should I even ask how many years it's taken for it to look like that?
And on the same lines, do you find and collect seeds, or buy them from someplace like Prairie Moon? Like you, I've also used High Country Garden as a source for rugged plants and always been happy with the company, even though some of the stuff they send is pretty small. Another company I've been very happy to do business with is Bluestone Perennials. The plants they ship out are big and healthy and really well packed for shipping. I think that Lazy S's is very similar. I can't remember ever having a complaint about them.

Years ago I had a native grass catalog put out by a company that I thought was named Karl Boehner, but now I can't find any reference if I run a search. Do you know who I mean?

Pat


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RE: Native Grass Gardens

Pat, I have Newcastle's copy of the book, which is also in the Pioneer System. So, if none of the other libraries have it I'll try to return it soon. :p

I think I want to focus mainly on the gray and blue grasses (and maybe some purple or burgundy though I haven't found a good one yet). I like the ones that have a little more ornamental appeal, so it doesn't look like I just got lazy decided to stop mowing the grass. I'll probably interplant some drought-tolerant perennial flowers and ground cover, too.


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RE: Native Grass Gardens

Tom, what kinds of grasses are they? Sounds like ones I would like. I am growing deergrass that I started from seed and some other Muhly grass types like Lindheimerri and Riverchonii. Those deergrass seeds were hard to get germination with. Out of 200 seeds i only had 8 that germinated. I got some unknown NM types as well that I am waiting to see how they look mature.

miraje, that Mexican Feathergrass is one of the prettiest and looks wonderful with the blues and greys, especially the really blue Little bluestem. Its so invasive with the seeds though. I picked up enough fluff to stuff a couple of pillows with trying to avoid so many volunteers. I glows in the landscape though. I think I am going to have to break down and buy that book. Its checked out of the Library often. I am so inspired by it.

Redding, I got most of the seeds at Plants of the Southwest. $3.00/pack and free shipping. I'll post a photo of the whole landscape. Its been successful here in Oklahoma going on 4 years now and the most fun I've ever had in gardening because I finally have a plan and it just grows on itself naturally. Very low maintenance especially on the watering issue. It needs the softness of the grasses I decided and the fall interest. I just fear the combination of grasses and cactus in weeding. I carry tweezers all the time in the garden but they make such a visual impact I can't resist them.


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RE: Native Grass Gardens

Cactusgarden,

The low grasses are buffalograss and blue grama and one prized mat of curly mesquite. The mid grasses are silver bluestem, sideoats grama, western wheatgrass,sand dropseed, and Indiangrass (it doesn't get very tall here, even in a good year). The only tall grass is switchgrass which grows only over the septic lines where the trencher broke through the hard-packed soil and there is a consistent supply of moisture from beneath. The grasses get no other supplemental water, although there is runoff from the house and snow drifts around the house in winter adding a little extra moisture. My soil is a heavy clay loam with a layer of almost completely impermeable limestone and caliche at a depth of about 3 to 4 feet. Average annual rainfall is 20". All, except the switchgrass and Indiangrass, were probably present on the site before it was broken out (plowed) back in the 1910's and are present today in the remaining tract of pastureland on the farm. My seed sources were Plants of the Southwest and Native American Seed.

Also, I have had good luck with New Mexico Feather Grass, although it does need some supplemental water, and Bush Muhly and Arizona Cottontop, which are thriving in the edges of a wildlife thicket with no supplemental water after the first year. Eastern gamagrass is struggling, even with supplemental water. I tried green sprangletop in the grass garden, but I have pretty much removed all of it because it was too weedy even for me.

Tom


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RE: Native Grass Gardens

Tom

I love the curly mesquite. I really want that one! And I also wanted to get the silver bluestem but I don't think I have room for that much variety as I am finding out so I'm sticking to just the Little Bluestem. I'm trying to grow some buffalo grass as a ground cover around some Giant Sacaton. I got 4 of those improved strains that High Country Gardens sells and in front of that I'm massing Sacaton Alkali. Its real dry on top of the slope. I pulled runners of the buffalo grass off of a guys yard up the street. He said take all you want and they are rooting in. I direct seeded the blue gramma and the sideoats. Definitely not invasive judging by the number that came up. Have you seen that blue gramma called 'Blonde Ambition'?

Where did you get the curly mesquite? ??

My Mexican Feathergrass is in sand and doesn't seem to need any extra water. I found by experiment it looks better left untrimmed in spring. I trimmed only one just to see. Once really nice thing about them is they will take an awful lot of shade and these look just like the ones in full sun. Solves a problem for me.

One I plan to wintersow this year is the Indian Ricegrass. I think its one of the prettiest and its so drought hardy, I'm ordering seeds from Plants of the SW. The deergrass is said to "thrive on drought" but the Linheimerri does better with some additional water.

The terribly invasive ones I pulled out were all of the types of Lovegrass (Weeping and Elliot's) and they weren't native either so I didn't like that. I went ahead and yanked the sand lovegrass before it even got a chance to flower after observing the other two. I think its just as bad as the sprangletop. I passed that one by for sure.

I got some kind of unknown type a friend picked up in New Mexico. The seeds looked like they were thickly covered in soft red animal fur. The plants are very light powdery blue, flattened at the base like Little Bluestem but the leaves are softer and a bit longer on the seedlings. If it turns out to be a keeper and a nice one, maybe you will trade some curly mesquite seeds for some seeds?

I have spike dropseed growing too. Took me weeks to ID it online. It looks like those punks you light firecrackers with coming out from just a few short blades close to the ground. A grass only a person like me would like probably because it looks in step with the desert feel.


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RE: Native Grass Gardens

I got the curly mesquite in a seed mixture from Native American Seeds. I can't get either big or little bluestem to grow; the plants just set there and then decline, although I can find both in the canyonlands within a couple of miles of my place. You are right about not cutting back New Mexico feather grass; it ruins its looks for at least a year.

I almost ordered Blonde Ambition, but we are struggling so much this horribly dry and hot spring and summer to keep what we already have alive, the vegetable garden going, and our animals fed, that we pulled the plug on new plants around the first of May.

Tom


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RE: Native Grass Gardens

Tom.... So do you have snakes? Just kidding. I have a couple garter snakes and I love them. I don't mind snakes unless they are poisonous. I would love to have some lizards though.

Most people don't really like the native grass gardens so much. I always get the "well, but I'm a flower person and......." I'm glad to find someone else who does appreciate them. I am just finding it refreshing to see a trend in this direction and am completely bored with the artificial looking, typical Miscanthus, Pennisetum and other typical OG nursery types ....blah blah blah.

I'm adding curly mesquite to that winter sowing plan here. Thanks for the tip.

Janet


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RE: Native Grass Gardens

Cactus, I did find the book in the library system and am having a copy sent to Tecumseh, so you don't need to return yours too soon. It looks terrific.
I also found the website for Plants of the Southwest. Oh, my. I think I'm in trouble. I can feel my bank balance dwindling already. But seriously, they carry a lot of stuff I've either wanted for a long time, or tried to put into a xeric area of my parent's garden and my father promptly watered them to death.

Since I have to take up all of my nonfunctional weed cloth and mulch and start over anyway, it will be a good time for me to rethink what I'm going to plant in the really dry areas and maybe do a bit more designing with it, working around some of the larger foundation plants rather than just poking things in the ground as I get them.

I do have a question for you, though. On the ones that they say take 'low water' will our (normal) spring and summer rains be too much for them? I'll be putting them into the sandy area of the garden. It seems to drain really well, but it still has hardpan under it, as soon as you get down a foot or so into it. It looks like most of the ones I want to use do fit the low water description. I'm thinking of penstemon, liatris, wallflowers, and CA poppies, to begin with. Since the border is so wide (nearly 80') I have enough room to do different color combinations in it without too much clashing. If I use the grasses to soften it, I might be able to create something decent.

I think I'd like to try the feather grass, and it's good to know that it will take some shade. I like the looks of the Little Bluestem also. I'd like to have a variety of sizes and habits, as long as they don't become invasive. I spend my days trying to rip out the assorted crabgrass, Johnson grass and several others that are growing here, so I can plant selected grasses in their place. Are we a crazy bunch, or what?

Pat


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RE: Native Grass Gardens

Redding, That Mexican Feathergrass is very invasive. They are threatening to outlaw it in California and other places. I rake up the fluff each year and its thick and full of seeds. The volunteers are easy to pull though. It is just so pretty and soft and versatile, I put up with it. I have had good luck with all the seeds I ordered except I failed to get some to germinate. Like the Orange globemallow, Feather Dalea and a couple shrubs. I ended up ordering plants. I did really good on the Desert Spoon and I absolutely love this plant. I have two large ones now. I've had good luck on cold hardy agaves too.

There is a place in Utah I like called Great Basin Natives and I got the Mormon Tea, Cliffrose and Prince's Plume and they are doing good. The Hopsage never made it but I knew that one was a real stretch.

I winter sowed the penstemon and they did good except one got too dry and died. If you plant them, they will reseed and sometimes all of these plants choose their own spots I found. Except I will say, if you do that flameflower you will have them everywhere in a couple of years. Over all, I have had good luck with all the plants with one exception. I can grow the fringed sage just fine but not the others. I went with the Silver King Artemesia for a similar effect. I would get the other sages to full size just fine and then all of a sudden, they just would die a slow death, seemingly for no reason after about two or three years.

The Apache Plume and Chamisa are big and have thrived. I love them both.


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RE: Native Grass Gardens

Janet,

I always answer "Yes, I have a healthy snake population-checkered garter snake, bull snake, glossy snake, hognose snake, coachwhip, and kingsnake." The only western diamondbacks we had were the first year we moved back to the farm and before I started planting my native plants: one in the chicken house and one out on the road by the mailbox. Not saying there is any connection, but I think a healthy and diverse snake population reduces the chance of dangerous rattlesnake problems some people around here have. Also, I have always liked snakes and even as a kid tried to understand them and think of them as friends. The increased and diverse snake population (and the best barn cats ever) have certainly helped control a nasty pocket gopher population that was around the old farmstead when we started to reclaim it.

Thanks for the info about Great Basin Natives. I have looked at their website and may order from them when we get back to a situation in which the new plants might have a chance for survival.

Feather Dalea is such a great plant, but I either never got it to germinate or, if it did, it died quickly. Out here it's habitat is pretty much restricted to limy, sharply draining slopes along or just below the Caprock Escarpment. Even if I could get a good plant, it would never survive a rainy spell in my clay loam. I'm finally realizing that just because a plant grows within a few miles of me, it may not make it at my site.

Tom


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RE: Native Grass Gardens

Tom, I have Dalea greggii a woman from the Hill Country in Texas sent to me growing well on a sandy slope. Its rated zone 8 but its doing fine here in 7. But, its not the Feather Dalea, not by a long shot, in desirability which I have tried to grow three years straight now. I keep thinking one day I will finally order seeds and actually get one to come up just by the odds. I haven't found it for sale anywhere either. Another I tried with no success was Creosote. I read these are notoriously difficult. I had only 4 seeds germinate. Three damped off in a pot and the one success that came up in the ground which I used to check every day suddenly got eaten by something. I hate when that happens.

The snake information is interesting. I'm surprised there are so many kinds, I had no idea. This is almost like a trip talking to some of you guys and I am trying to picture the scene. I used to play with them as a kid and it was always a prize to find a snake. Do you have horned toads? I haven't seen one since a trip I took quite some time back to New Mexico and wondered if they are still anywhere around in Oklahoma. We used to have a lot of them in the alley in Ponca City way back when. You sound like you are in a spot that if they do still exist in the state, you'd have them.

Janet


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RE: Native Grass Gardens

Janet,

Yes, most people around here poison their red ant beds, but the red ants (harvester ants) are the food for horned toads. Folks that drop by, say that they haven't seen a horned toad in years and then get freaked out by the red ants all around. And the harvester ants live from the seeds of the native grasses.

Go figure. It all works.

I've never grown grown Dalea greggii and I wish you good luck with the zone 8 Daleas. None of the ones I've tried here will make it through a mild winter in my heavy soil. Dalea frutescens is one of the most beautiful plants I've ever tried here (it grew through the summer and was full of bloom well into November). In its natural habitat it grows on the west edge of Llano Estacado (120 miles to the west in New Mexico) up into Zone 6 territory, but I lost it even in a very mild and relatively dry winter.

By the way, Josiah Gregg, of Salvia gregii, Dalea greggii, etc,. fame was the first cousin of one my ggg-grandmothers (who lived out her later years in the Choctaw Nation). Of all the very distant, distant kin I've unearthed in my family tree, he makes me feel the most proud.

And another by the way, I'm in Texas, about 80 miles, as the crow flies, from the southwesternmost corner of Oklahoma. I kind of butted into your forum because our climates have a lot in common, the posters here have similar interests, and, more importantly, you guys are so nice. Will Rogers said he never met a man he didn't like, but I never met anybody from Oklahoma I didn't like.

Tom


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RE: Native Grass Gardens

Tom, You just get more and more interesting on this native plant subject. I never knew about this red ant, grass, horned toad relationship before. I'm impressed, related to Josiah Gregg. I've read a bit about him and Englemann and some of the others.

I looked up the Dalea fructescens in the Native Texas Plant book by Sally Wasoski. Thats a pretty one to be sure, prettiest of the three she has in there. Weird it didn't make it through winter because its an Oklahoma native too. Must be drainage. I may try the other variety offered at Plants of the SW, the Dalea scoparia. Maybe I will have better luck. If I ever found a source for the fructescens I'd be sure to buy seeds.

The Dalea greggii is on its third summer here so I think its safe. I have it next to a beavertail cactus, the NM blue kind that rots if you so much as sweat on it and both are in a spot that water runs straight off. Speaking of plants named after Josiah Gregg, are you familiar with Coldenia greggii? Its a wonderful plant that Sally Wasoski says no one has been able to propagate. Its a native of the Chihauhuan Desert that needs dry air and sounds like one that can only be appreciated in its habitat.

Have you tried growing Gutierrezia sarothae (Snakeweed)? Also called Turpentine weed. I love this plant. I got some seeds to germinate and they grow extremely slow. Its a perennial variety of broomweed, not invasive like the annuals and its very nice, covered in small yellow blooms in fall. Then I discovered it growing at this church in the Hispanic area of OKC. There is a garden planted all in Texas natives and there it was! Whoever planted this garden has my taste in plants, not a dog in the bunch and a couple I still cannot ID. I was able to get one plant growing in the cracks of the pavement of the parking lot that was a decent size right after a rain, I gently lifted it out using my car keys and wrapped it in a damp napkin and carefully held it the whole way home. It did fine and is now thriving and happy in a desolately dry spot where a chunk of the sidewalk got chipped away and it should bloom this fall. I'd been trying to get this plant for three years.

Are you in the panhandle? Most of the Texans I have dealt with are pretty snobby about Texas and give me an Okie inferiority complex. Its OK, I love their plants so I put up with it.

Janet


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RE: Native Grass Gardens

Tom, that's really interesting about the relationship between the horned toads and red ants. We had giant red ants, nearly as big as carpenter ants, down around San Bernardino when I was a kid, and we also had horned toads. I don't think I've ever seen any since then.

Janet, I think I'm going to have to be very careful with the grasses, now that you've said that some can be quite invasive. Naturally I knew that, but I had hoped the ones that we see in use as ornamentals would tend to be more well-behaved.
I've got 6 acres of cleared pasture, but I don't think I'd call it prairie, since we're pretty well surrounded by oak trees everyplace else. I've also got a border of cedars that runs all the way around the property. The original owner put them there. I hate the things because of the way they tend to harbor ticks and they are such a fire hazard.

My big flower border where I'd like to use some ornamental grasses for interest, runs across the front of the house section of the property, but it's on the far side of a humongous cement parking area that's about 40' x 130'. It's nearly the size of a city lot! If the bed on the far side was just a little strip, it wouldn't be so bad. It's not. When I ordered weed cloth, I had to measure it to get an idea of the size. It's 24' x 80' and was full of stuff like crabgrass, burr clover, stick-tights and poison oak; a big weed patch that had to be mowed all the time. After the first year, I couldn't stand to look at it any longer. The soil in the bed seems to be pretty good, as I've said before, but it isn't what you could call a 'yard' with all that concrete between it and the house. I began a weed control program and started putting in some of the larger foundation plants; a couple of maple trees, 3 crape myrtles, a Rose of Sharon and so on. The maples may eventually hang out over the parking lot, but it's so big that I can't see that it will be a problem.
The soil in the bed seems to be pretty good, and looks to be a pretty neutral ph, but as I've said before, but it isn't what you could call a 'yard' with all that concrete between it and the house. Weeds are still my biggest problem, and most of them are a grass of one sort or another. The crabgrass/devilgrass is a nightmare. I'm going to try using the industrial-grade weed cloth that DeWitt sent to replace the stuff that failed, but the last thing I need is something that tends to be invasive, or that will let native weeds grow up through it. Somehow I managed to bring in a start of vinca major, and it's a disaster. Now it's another big bunch of tall grass with vinca leaves poking through it. I need to rip it all out.

Are there any of the native grasses that are both non-invasive and also dense enough to pretty well choke out anything that tries to grow through them? I see them a lot in Shawnee and Tecumseh, but they are in planters with little else around them, so it's hard to tell what they would do in a garden like this, that tends to have a rampant grass population in spite of everything I can do to stop it.

Oh, and I think you're the one who directed me to that silt test at Fine Gardening? Or was it Tom? I've forgotten. Anyway, thank you. I quit taking the mag a long time ago, so I hadn't seen it. It's a really good article, and I'm going to try it. The question seems to have already been answered. I won't be digging up any trailer-loads of the silty stuff in the chicken pens and putting it in the garden. I'll just stick to adding manure to the compost heap.
I do have a neighbor who raises chicks and who sometimes brings the cedar bedding from the pens, so I add that also and let it compost down. It should not be any problem, should it? The bedding I add in from our sheep pens is generally oat straw or native grass hay and manure. I haven't worried about it too much and it does not seem to be seeding. I hope I'm not creating a monster by using it and will get a big surprise later on.

Sorry I wandered around so far away from the original topic of garden grasses. It's hard to draw the line between controlling weed grasses and putting in the good ornamental ones and keep the thread separate.

Pat

ps: Janet, I absolutely love your photo of the wildflower up against the blue wall. It is so good, and has such a southwest feel about it. Have you ever thought of entering it in photo competition? Seriously. It's good.


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RE: Native Grass Gardens

Redding,

Horned toads are great. It makes my day every time I see one. I didn't direct you to the silt test; it was somebody else.

Janet,

Yes, I'm in the southern Texas Panhandle, closer to Lubbock than Amarillo, but a good ways from both.

And, yes, Gutierrezia sarothae is native here. I don't cultivate it, but I leave it when it comes up around the farmstead, unless it's in a weedy area that needs to be mowed and then it gets mowed. In the grasslands on the farm, it's pretty common and one of my favorites. Nothing seems to eat it. In fact, it's one of the few green things around here this year. Unfortunately. like most of our natives, it has "weed" in its common English name and most people here consider it such. And it can completely dominate heavily overgrazed range sites with shallow, limy soil.

Thanks for the info about Coldenia greggii. Maybe the next time I get down to southwest Texas I can see it in habitat.

Tom


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