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5 Tough Grasses for Water-Wise Beauty

Ornamental grasses are slowly gaining some well-deserved recognition in Dallas area landscapes, and we couldn’t be happier.

We’re fortunate to have a host of Texas native species that fit right in here and don’t mind our less-than-stellar soils and unpredictable weather. Best of all, once they’re established, they’re moderately to extremely tolerant of drought conditions and ask very little in terms of maintenance or care.

Here are five of our favorites:

1. Mexican Feather Grass (Nasella tenuissima, syn. Stipa tenuissima)

Mex Feath landscape
The silky blooms of Mexican feather grass catch the morning light.

Yes, it can be an aggressive re-seeder (it’s ideal as a groundcover/mass planting) and in some climates is listed as invasive–but not here in DFW. Its silky, flowing texture creates movement in the landscape and it’s golden, gossamer blooms are magical when they catch the sun. It’s only about 2′ tall, so it combines beautifully with other drought-tolerant plantings.

Bonus: birds love to pull the the threadlike stems for building their nests, so they benefit, too. One word of caution: it’s not well-suited to planting around pools, as the fine strands can clog filters like hair does (we’ve learned from experience).

2. Inland Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium)

Inland sea oats landscape
A mature clump of Inland Sea Oats makes a great textural contrast to this Oakleaf Hydrangea.

Got shade? Rejoice! Here’s a native, drought-tolerant grass that thrives in light to medium shade…

Dappled light under trees or on the edges of woodland plantings are ideal. It’s another agressive re-seeder, so do note that it will form a dense mass if left to its own devices. The interesting little pendulous, chevron seedheads are a treat for birds, though, and the texture of this emerald-green beauty is lovely.

3. ‘Blonde Ambition’ Blue Grama Grass (Bouteloua gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition)

Bouteloua_gracilis_blond_ambition
‘Blonde Ambition’ grass shows off its golden coloration and makes a nice napping spot. Photo courtesy Mountain States Wholesale Nursery.

According to the well-known grower Mountain States Wholesale Nursery:

“Selected by renowned plantsman David Salmon of High Country Gardens in Santa Fe, this showy selection of blue grama grass has huge chartreuse flowers that dance above the foliage. They mature into long-lasting blond seedheads that add interest all year.”

We whole-heartedly agree. ‘Blonde Ambition’ lights up sunny spots with its honey-golden seedheads that jut out from the stems at odd angles. It makes an interesting textural accent to any border planting, since it stays around 3′ tall.

4. Pink Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris, M. capillaris ‘Regal Mist’ and M. capillaris x lindheimeri ‘Pink Flamingo’)

Muhlenbergia_capillaris
Long drifts of pink muhly grass make an ethereal show in bloom. Photo courtesy Mountain States Wholesale Nursery.

Anyone who’s seen pink muhly grass in bloom remembers it. It’s often compared to a cloud of pink smoke as its tiny pink blooms are produced in such profusion that the resulting cloud is magical. While the native variety is beautiful, recent hybrids and cultivars add new twists: ‘Regal Mist’ is particularly floriferous and richly colored, while ‘Pink Flamingo’ creates more plume-like blooms that are like prominent, pink exclamation marks in the garden. Both are durable and long-lasting, too.

5: Little Bluestem (Andropogon scoparius syn. Schizachyrium scoparium)

Andropogona_scoparius
Little bluestem grass makes neat clumps of beautiful blue-green foliage. Photo courtesy Mountain States Wholesale Nursery.

Native across North America, bluestem is tolerant of a variety of poor soil conditions as long as they’re well-drained. They actually prefer to have a nutrient-poor (lean) soil, and ask very little else. The lovely glaucus, blue-green color makes them a great plant to combine with gold/yellow/chartreuse in the landscape.

Remember with these and other ornamental grasses: ‘drought tolerant’ does not necessarily mean ‘drought beautiful.’

While they can live through harsh conditions, they’ll be greatly helped in their landscape beauty by supplemental irrigation during the heat of summer. Other than that, a hard cut-back in late winter (typically January in DFW) is all they’ll really want, other than great drainage.

Get tips and inspiration on increasing your own landscape water wisdom anytime at NHG.

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