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  For Your Garden  

January 2008

Listen to the podcast of this information.


You may not consider winter as a time to think about or be impressed by the plants in your garden. Winter gardens can be beautiful, though, and provide important habitat for wildlife. As you plan for your garden this year, consider including some native grasses. Leaving them year round can be a pleasing experience for you, and they require very little maintenance. Native prairie grasses are resistant to cold and drought and are rarely attacked by disease and insects. They are perennials that you can enjoy year after year.

big bluestem grass
Big bluestem ( Andropogon gerardii ) and Indian grass ( Sorghastrum nutans )

Photo © 2008, Adele Hodde, IDNR Office of Public Services. Photo rights available for purchase.

Both of these native prairie plants are bunch grasses, growing in clumps. They can add interest to your garden through color and shape. In winter, snow catches on the leaves, and ice can make them bend to reflect the brilliant sunlight. Many animal species can find shelter under the leaves at the base of the plant, and birds will eat the seeds throughout the winter.

Big bluestem is the State Prairie Grass of Illinois. It can grow to a height of six to eight feet. In summer, the leaves are blue-green, thus this plant's common name. In fall the leaves turn yellow and bronze.

Indian grass grows to a height of four to six feet. It has long narrow leaves that ripple in the wind and seed heads that look like feather plumes. Flowers develop in August and September, and the plant provides a good color accent in fall.

Both of these species should be planted far enough from other plants in your garden to give them room to grow and to avoid entanglements with other plants. Since these are tall plants, the back of the garden is a good place for them.

For more information about these and other native Illinois prairie plants, including where to purchase them and planting guides, the following publications are available through the IDNR order form at http://www.idnrteachkids.com.

  • Prairie Establishment and Landscaping
  • Landscaping for Wildlife

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