Using Native Prairie Grasses in the Home Landscape
Annual ryegrass (Lolium multiflorum) has been widely used as a temporary grass in lawn mixtures (Fig. 4.26). It is short-lived and not recommended for lawn use since the plants will all die during the winter. Where a temporary cover is needed during the growing season, such as in areas used as ice rinks, this may be a suitable, cost effective choice.
The use of native prairie grasses in the home landscape is really better suited to dedicated landscape design features such as prairie gardens, prairie borders or specimen plantings rather than trying to adapt them to a lawn. Most of the smaller prairie grasses that are often promoted as useful for lawns have much stiffer upright growth habits than typical cool season lawn grasses. Hence, they are much less tolerant of lower mowing heights. Plants such as blue grama grass (Bouteloua gracilis) have more open, dead appearing centers with grass growing around the edge of that center area. They along with most other native prairie grasses do not make a healthy dense turfgrass cover (Fig. 4.36).
Figure 4.36. Poor ‘turfgrass’ density of blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis) when mowed too short.
Nonetheless, dedicating space to gardens of prairie grasses and flowering prairie plants can make a very attractive landscape feature during the growing season (Fig. 4.37) as well as having some visual winter interest. In addition, reestablishing an area that no longer needs to be regularly mowed or maintained with prairie grasses can create a mini-prairie area on larger landscapes or within a park area (Fig. 4.38).
Figure 4.37. Flowering prairie plants and grasses.
Figure 4.38. Prairie plants adjacent to mowed turfgrass.
By themselves, native prairie grasses can also be viewed as a type of ornamental grass. In that way, they can be used as a specimen planting in the landscape (Fig. 4.39) or utilized in other difficult to maintain areas (Fig. 4.40).
Figure 4.39. Prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis) used as a specimen landscape planting.
Figure 4.40. Prairie grasses utilized on a difficult to mow area. Prairie grasses can also be used as a lakeshore buffer to reduce surface water runoff.
While native prairie grasses may not make a particularly attractive or functional lawn area, they can have great aesthetic and functional value in our landscapes when placed in dedicated areas or planting beds that highlight all of their interesting plant features, particularly their flowering stems (Fig. 4.41).
Figure 4.41. Urban prairie restoration with maintained boulevard that allows curb access.
As to what may be on the horizon, the University of Minnesota is actively engaged in a breeding program to develop a native cool-season prairie grass, Koeleria macrantha or prairie Junegrass with more traditional lawn turfgrass qualities.
For more information on native prairie grasses, see:Developing a Residential Prairie