Although perennials are the face of the native prairie garden, grasses are the backbone. Without the contrast provided by the grasses, the perennials are a confusing jumble of color and shape. And the grasses lend subtle visual interest throughout the year, both in and out of bloom (you may not think of grasses as blooming, but they do, and the blooms can be surprisingly colorful and beautiful in form).
Most of the common grasses bloom late in summer and set seed in fall. However, two easy-to-grow natives bloom and set seed early.
Junegrass (Koeleria macracantha) bloomed in early June, along with the penstemon. This is an exceedingly easy to grow plant, as long as it gets full sun, and its size, never exceeding 3′ tall, makes it easy to incorporate into the perennial border. As is the case with most of the native grasses I grow, the deer and rabbits leave this plant alone.
Bottlebrush grass (Hystrix patula) is another story–the deer seem to relish it. However, it’s such a useful plant that I keep moving it around, hoping they won’t find it, and usually the critters miss some of the plants so it manages to bloom. This grass does well in shade (note the hemlocks right behind the grass in the picture), making it a very valuable addition to the garden.
All prairie plants have extensive root systems, which can be 20′ feet long, so even if they do get eaten one year, they invariably come right back up the next year. That’s what happens with my bottlebrush grass.
I’m enjoying these early bloomers while looking forward to the summer bloomers still to come.