Be Gone Blue Grass

by Shawn Paul Patille, Senior Horticulturist at Humber Nurseries

Yes, I said it and I truly mean it. Indeed, I am suggesting that homeowners till up their turf, resist the perennial rye and find away without fine fescue. Am I in anyway suggesting paving the whole of the yard? Not at all, as I am anti-hard surfaces as well. Shall one turn to Japanese maiden grass and feather reed? Please don’t! I’ve been murdered by the abundance of Miscanthus and killed by the overuse of ‘Karl Foerster’.

What I am proposing in areas of full sun and sandy soils, is to take inspiration from our Eastern Tallgrass Prairie. What? Wait! Is the author of this article completely mad or does he just lack knowledge of geography? He is after all residing in Toronto and will be at the National Home Show answering all of your gardening questions!

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Historically, much of southern Ontario sits on the eastern edge of what is known as Eastern Tallgrass Prairie. Unlike the western prairie of sagebrush and low grasses, prairies in this region were dominated by grasses over 2 metres in height. There’s a reason why they call one of those grasses big bluestem! Let’s not forget the lovely Indian grass that shares the same habitat. Admittedly, I was never into grasses or prairie ecosystems. My personal greenhouse was filled with woodland forbs and tree seedlings at maximum capacity, there was no room for any more species. That was until I saw Indian grass in the wild. A long stretch of prairie remnant along a roadside, the bronze seed heads of Indian grass captured and held the droplets of an early morning mist. How could I not collect and try a few of these beautiful plants? And so the love affair began.

First it was Indian grass, then Bigblue stem, then Littleblue…Switchgrass, Sideoats and Prairie Dropseed and so on. I might have an addiction….

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Of course there are many more options than just grasses and I know the question will be raised. What about colourful flowers? Again, there is no need to look any further than the Tallgrass Prairie. Just look at the current offerings of colourful perennials at local garden centres.

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The ever popular coneflower, wild bergamot, blazing star and the 2017 Perennial of the Year, Butterfly weed are all denizens of our prairie. In July and August when other perennials are languishing in summer heat, these plants come into their seasonal glory. Prairie smoke, wild blue lupines, pussytoes and pearly everlasting supply spring interest and Vernonia brightens up the September landscape with its magenta blooms.

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Asters and goldenrods provide dashes of white and shades of purple and blue well into the fall and it doesn’t stop there. The grasses change colour and give hints of purple, tan and bronze. No need to do any fall cleaning as the seed heads will provide natural food for the birds. Can it get any better? Yes it can! Once established a prairie garden is a xeric or low water use garden and furthermore, you will be providing a pollinator habitat, so expect your tomato and other fruits and vegetables to provide you with a bumper crop.

Aesthetic beauty, functionality, low maintenance and ecologically sound, you really can have it all with a well thought out prairie garden and no blue grass!

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Love this article? You can learn more and find all of these plants at Humber Nurseries!


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