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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 ( Andropogon gerardii ) and Indian grass ( Sorghastrum
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.
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.
Establishment and Landscaping