Three Great Grasses for Fall

This is going to be a short post, because I got up too early today (too early for a Saturday, anyhow) and drove to another city and had meetings and then drove back and so now I am tired.

Anyhow, today is Garden Bloggers’ Foliage Day, sponsored by Cristina of My Hesperides Garden. And I’m taking this opportunity to highlight three grasses that are really outstanding in the fall. None of these grasses are new to readers of this blog. If you have a problem with that, that’s just too damn bad.


First off, here’s ‘Standing Ovation’ Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium). Just planted a few of these earlier this year and I’m so glad I did. The color of this variety just gets better and better. Can’t wait until my little patch of ‘Standing Ovation’ fills in and shows off more gorgeous color next fall.

dsc_0929Now let’s take a look at some Northern Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium). Every autumn I’m bowled over by how attractive this plant’s seed heads get. Aggressive to the point of being obnoxious, yes, but then nobody’s perfect.


And then finally: ‘Northwind’ Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum). Sturdy, substantial and reliable, with an imposing vertical habit and dainty seed heads.

What’s your favorite ornamental grass for fall?

60 Comments on “Three Great Grasses for Fall

  1. I think just about any variety of Panicum is my favorite.They’re so reliable, all the ones I have color up nicely and make substantial clumps very quickly. There is just nothing bad to say about them.

    • If I were to do it over I might concentrate more on the shorter varieties like ‘Shenandoah’ and ‘Cheyenne Sky’. But truly, as you say, all the Panicums are great.

  2. I have the grasses above–straight species–but my all time favorite is Prairie Drop Seed (Sporobolus heterolepis).

  3. Just my my cup of tea! Of the true prairie grasses I find the shorter varieties do well in the wet UK climate, I really like P. Shenandoah and Heiliger Hain.

  4. I love grasses but I agree about the sea oats. I am pulling them up from everywhere and am seriously considering cutting them down for the winter this year. I already had to cut back the zebra grasses that gotten beaten up in a storm and were covered with powdery mildew.

  5. Love the sea oats and switchgrass. Have you ever tried pink muhly grass? Although, it may not survive Chicago winters.
    Hope you have a Sunday of rest!

  6. Those are lovely ones and I would definitely try the sea oats if it were not a bully – I have way too many of those in the garden as it is! I think I’ll be trying out a few annual grasses, hopefully next year. In the past, I would always be disappointed if I found out that a lovely grass that I saw at a garden center was an annual, thinking I preferred the ease of perennials, but now that I’m faced with the prospect of dividing a couple of perennial clumps, I’m rethinking.

      • The main one I’m considering is red fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum). Other than that I’ll be doing a lot of catalogue browsing for other interesting varieties. I’m planning on growing from seed as it usually gives you a lot more choice, although it will be my first time growing an ornamental grass that way so I’m not really sure what to expect. The great thing about annuals, though, is that your commitment is short lived, which comes in particularly handy when a variety doesn’t do well or you end up not particularly liking it or the location it’s in…no need to get out the shovel as winter will do the work for you 🙂

  7. I hope you got a nap.
    My favorite grass would have to be the Northern Sea Oats. It is a little drifty but I haven’t hated it yet. I have tried to get a Little Blue Stem going but I don’t think there was enough sun for it. I might give it another try someplace else.

  8. I could cut and paste many of the comments above. I love almost every ornamental grass come fall. But my single favourite-est is Sporabolus heterolopsis. The colour is stunning now, particularly as it is highlighted against a rusted steel background. And with raindrops on it now, as an added bonus.

  9. Hello Jason, we don’t have any grasses in the borders but I’m getting an itch to add some in as they’re being mentioned more and more. I really like the northern sea oats and the switchgrass. We’ve been put off grasses as we’re removing inherited carex grass that has self-seeded itself all around the garden.

  10. I have these three (but not the cultivar of Little Bluestem you have). I also have Chinese Silver Grass (which I kept mistaking for Big Bluestem and NOT because they look alike), Big Bluestem (just starting), a Pampas Grass (meh), and too much Dwarf Fountain Grass ‘Hameln’ which is striking in the fall. This must be the year for ornamental grasses because everywhere I go, I see great displays.

    • There’s lots of ‘Hameln’ at the Chicago Botanic Garden – it’s a beauty. I also have ‘Red October’ Big Bluestem, but it hasn’t achieved any size yet.

  11. The Panicum is lovely, but I couldn’t possibly choose a favourite grass. The autumn ones are all so beautiful!

  12. I’ve never planted ornamental grass here, as so many different types grow on their own with no help from us. Our county grows grass seed commercially and is known as “The Grass Seed Capital of the World”, and this slogan is on the welcome signs along the main interstate running through the county. We have a Pampas Grass clump planted by the old owner. Grasses are very beautiful, and often underappreciated as garden plants.

  13. My grasses were getting too big and I needed to make a change. So, I got rid of five of them and divided the rest and moved them around a bit. The one I kept was the Zebra grass because it stays upright and isn’t too needy. 🙂

  14. I love Northwind but Dallas Blues is my favorite. Funny how I used to dislike panicums in general, but it was one of those cases of it being all over the place and why would I need to give up garden space for it… but now I have a few clumps of each.
    Little and big bluestems are also on the favorites list, along with Karl Foerster 🙂

    • I have a couple of ‘Red October’ Big Bluestems, but they are very small still (little big bluestems). Eager to see them get established. I have seen ‘Dallas Blues’, it does have very good color. By the way, Frank, could you check to see if my comments on your blog are ending up in your spam folder? I notice the last one never made an appearance, and for some reason my comments have been diverted into the spam folder of a number of blogs. I hope this isn’t the internet trying to tell me something about their quality.

      • Well look at that, I did find you in the spam folder… Hopefully that doesn’t keep happening since I’m not sure when I would have seen it had you not mentioned it. Weird. I know this has happened to two or three other people over the last year but I can’t think of a reason why. Good luck… but as I consider this further, it might actually be payback for causing me to buy some ‘standing ovation’ little bluestems…. for some reason I suddenly NEEDED to have them 🙂

  15. I have tried smaller grasses but they then make a take over bid for the garden and out they have to come! I find the Miscanthus family are quite well behaved!

  16. I purchased seed for Inland Sea Oats from Native American Seed last fall because I thought it was so pretty, but not one seed germinated. This year, I bought two sea oat plants in gallon containers. I hope it makes more of itself. Great post because I want to add more tall grasses to my yard.

  17. My ‘Standing Ovation’ are still a little underwhelming…but they are still getting established, so I have hopes they will look better next year. My fave, at the moment, is ‘Blue Heaven’ Little Bluestem…it’s just gorgeous. Of course, all the Panicums are great…and ‘Northwind’ is just so very good…especially right now when its that fabulous, buttery yellow.

    • Yes, ‘Blue Heaven’ is a great variety. I have some of that as well. My ‘Northwind’ is still green, in our climate I would say fall color is not one of its strengths.

  18. Ilve grown two of these three: the Little Bluestem and the Sea Oats. Love the sea oats even though it can easily get territorial hereabouts. The bluestem wasn’t a named variety and maybe that’s why I was underwhelmed with it; it was quite floppy even though sited in a sheltered southwest corner. If ‘Standing Ovation’ is a reference to its growth habit I may give that one a try in the next garden.

  19. I just added my first ornamental grasses to the garden this year — three plants of Panicum virgatum ‘Heavy Metal.’ I’m eager to see how they will look as they begin to get established and fill out next fall.

  20. I agree: These three are amazing! I only have the Sea Oats in my garden because of the shade, but I love the other two in other settings so much. Great suggestions! 🙂

  21. I have to say that reading your posts over the years has inspired me to add more grasses to my garden, my only problem now is that they seed everywhere! Love these….you get yourself some rest!!! xxx

  22. Love ornamental grasses! A lot of folks don’t research for what grows best in their area, either ornamental or lawn grass and just grab cheap off the shelf at a garden center.

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