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Continued: Ornamental grasses bring a welcome shot of drama to the autumn garden.

  • Article by: NANCY ROSE
  • Last update: August 16, 2009 - 10:32 AM

This native grass species has wildly variable form, so selected cultivars are the best bet for gardens. The airy, white-to-pinkish flower heads form in late summer and early fall. The tan seedheads persist into winter and provide a good seed source for birds. Good cultivars include 'Heavy Metal,' 'Northwind,' 'Shenandoah' and 'Rotstrahlbusch.'

Big bluestem

(Andropogon gerardii)

Not the best choice for small gardens, but for those who have room for a bit of prairie this is one of the dominant grass species. This towering (6 to 8 feet) native produces distinctive, purplish flowers and seed heads that take the shape of a turkey's foot.

Northern sea oats

(Chasmanthium latifulium)

Though marginally hardy in Zone 4, northern sea oats is worth trying for its unique seedheads, which look like flattened wheat or oat seedheads and change from pale green to pink-bronze in fall. Cut the stems for long-lasting dried bouquets.


Little bluestem

(Schizachyrium scoparium)

The foliage of this native prairie grass often develops rich orange, red and burgundy tints in the fall. For reliable, outstanding red-purple fall color, try Blue Heaven, a recent introduction from the University of Minnesota.

Flame grass

(Miscanthus 'Purpurascens')

This hybrid Miscanthus is very hardy (to Zone 3) and develops nice orange and red foliage highlights in the fall. It's also sterile, so there's not a threat of unwanted seeding.

Prairie dropseed

(Sporobolus heterolepis)

This native prairie grass has delicate, mounded foliage that often turns warm yellow to pale orange in autumn. Another great fall feature is its airy, fragrant fall seedheads, which catch the light beautifully.

Nancy Rose is a horticulturist with the University of Minnesota Extension. To ask her a gardening question, call 612-673-9073 and leave a message. She will answer questions in this column only.

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