“The most important thing is to choose the right herbs for your particular conditions,” says Mark Richardson, director of horticulture at the New England Botanic Garden. One easy way to discover plants native to your local area is to enter your zip code into the National Wildlife Federation’s Native Plant Finder.
Based on scientific research by Dr. Douglas Tallamy, professor of agriculture at the University of Delaware, and research assistant Kimberly Shropshire, this simple online tool helps homeowners and gardeners identify native plants growing wild in their area.
Mark says most local nurseries have a good selection of natives and will likely have many of your favorites in store. Alternatively, you can purchase young plants and seeds from online suppliers.
Just keep in mind that the conditions that native grasses and sedges enjoy vary depending on their preferred environment, so be sure to match them to the specific light and soil types and conditions in your garden. For example, if you like the look of sun-loving prairie seeds (Sporopulus heterolipis), it is unlikely to thrive in wet shade, even if it is native to your area.
Mark Richardson is director of horticulture at the New England Botanical Garden on Tower Hill in Boylston, Massachusetts. He oversees the organisation’s Living Group, which includes 17 gardens, indoor conservatories, planting areas and surrounding woodlands.
Expert advice on how to care for native grasses
These basic considerations will help you take the best care of your native grasses, ensuring your plants thrive.
When to plant native grass or sedges
The best time to plant native herbaceous plants in areas that experience cold winters is fall or early spring, when the ground is not frozen or waterlogged. In hot, drought-prone areas, grasses will establish well when planted during the cooler seasons of late fall to early spring.
The California Native Plant Society suggests planting before or during the winter rains to give your plants time to become established before the summer heat arrives. Plant the grass so it is at the same soil level as it was in its original pot, and do not add any fertilizer to the planting hole.
If you plan to plant seeds, the best time is during the winter in hot, dry states or in late fall or early spring in cold climates. Your seed supplier will provide you with more information about the amount of seeds you will need for your space.
After sowing, remember that many native grass seeds are food sources for local birds, so some protection from them may be needed to ensure good germination rates. In later years, the herbs will produce enough seeds to fill the space in your garden and feed local wildlife.
Water needs of native grasses
All grasses and sedges will need regular watering during dry periods as they grow. Cathy Crane of Northern California’s native plant nursery, Yerba Buena Nursery, recommends watering each new plant with one gallon of water weekly for the first year.
“Hand watering is the best method, allowing you to target moisture at the base of the plants near the roots, where it is needed,” she says. “After the first year, they will only need occasional water – about once a month if it doesn’t rain.”
Grasses in other parts of the country may not need additional watering at all once they are established. “Warm-season grasses are like a young stem (Schizacherium scoparium), switch (It turned into a panic) and seeds (Sporopulus heterolipis) usually have deep root systems, making them highly drought tolerant and good for soil stabilization.
Cathy Crane adds that cool-season California natives like fescue – California fescue And Red blush -It also has deep roots that allow it to survive long, dry summers with little extra moisture.
Kathy Crane is a garden designer and owner of California’s oldest native plant retail nursery, Yerba Buena Nursery. The nursery grows, designs and sells native California plants for home gardens.
Feed local grasses
Most native grasses will not need additional fertilizer if they are growing in a location suitable for their needs.
In fact, overfertilizing them may cause more harm than good, as nitrates and phosphates from store-bought produce will drain from your garden into local waterways and contribute to river and ocean pollution.
Cut local grasses
An annual spring cut, removing all old foliage to make room for new growth, is often the only maintenance a deciduous lawn requires.
Mark Richardson recommends cutting back compact evergreen sedges used as grass substitutes, such as Pennsylvania sedge (carex pennsylvanica) is available here at Nature Hills, once or twice a year to keep it clean.
For other evergreens, Kathy Crane suggests simply combing the leaves with your fingers to remove dead stems, rather than cutting them off.
“I often see gardeners cutting evergreen grasses and sedges in the autumn, turning them into short stubs, but they will not grow back into their natural shape, while gentle combing means they retain their good appearance all year round.”
If you have planted a meadow, the traditional method is to mow the plants after they set seed in late summer. However, the experts at American Meadows suggest leaving this task until early spring, to provide the birds with a rich source of seed over the winter, or cutting most of the meadow in the summer but leaving one section standing until spring.
Remove all cuttings after mowing or in early spring to prevent them from rotting and enriching the soil, which reduces the number of flowers.
Should I use pesticides on native weeds?
Mark Richardson, director of horticulture at the New England Botanic Garden, cautions against using any form of herbicide or insecticide on your native grasses. “Many of these grasses support beneficial insects, host moth and butterfly caterpillars, while providing birds and other wildlife as food and cover.”
Neonicotinoid pesticides pose a serious threat to native insect populations and the creatures that prey on them, so try to avoid using these products on any plants, especially natives, in your garden.
If you’re thinking about introducing native grasses and sedges into your garden, you may be interested in learning more about prairie planting or getting some ideas about native wildflowers you can plant now.