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Plants for Rain Gardens: Native Grasses for Sunny and Moist Conditions

Andropogon-gerardii-2When choosing plants for a rain garden you have to consider not only light conditions but the moisture content of the soil. Rain gardens can have parts with 1. shallow water most of the time, 2.wet soil that occasionally has standing water, 3. moist but not wet soil, and 4. dry, well-drained soils. The grasses described below all grow in sun and moist conditions but some can tolerate wetter or dryer conditions, as well as part shade. These variations are noted.

Big Blue Stem (Andropogon gerardii)
Andropogon-gerardii-2The main component of the tall grass prairie, big blue stem is a clumping warm-season grass with blue-green to silvery foliage and purplish flower spikes four inches long in late summer. The foliage takes on bronze tones in the fall. Good in the garden, for erosion control, and in both fresh and dried arrangements.

Height: 4-6’
Bloom Time: Late summer
Light: Full sun
Soil: Prefers moist, but tolerates some drought.
Hardiness: Zones 4-10

Side Oats Grass (Bouteloua curtipendula)
Bouteloua curtipendulaThis clump forming warm-season grass is native to the area from Canada to South America. It grows throughout most of the US where it can be found on plains, prairies, and rocky hills. The gray-green leaves are fine textured and the spikes of flowers are purple-tinted and one sided like a banner. Good as a ground cover and for fresh and cut arrangements.

Height: 18-30”
Bloom Time: Mid-summer
Light: Full sun
Soil: Prefers moist, but tolerates dry.
Hardiness: Zones 4-9

Vanilla Sweet Grass (Hierochloe odorata)
Hierochloe odoratumAn aromatic perennial, vanilla sweet grass is native to the northern states of the US including Alaska where it is found in wetlands, prairies, and savannas in wet to medium moist soils. The leaves are up to thirty-nine inches long and grow horizontally because they lack stiff stems. Plants spread by rhizomes and can be invasive.

Height: 10-24”
Bloom Time: April to June
Light: Sun; tolerates part shade
Soil: Prefers moist but tolerates wet.
Hardiness: Zones 3-8

Prairie Cord Grass (Spartinia pectinata)
spartina-pectinata-This tough warm season grass was one of the original components of the tall grass prairie. It is native to the northern states of the US where it grows in low-lying, moist areas or on the margins of ponds and rivers. Plants form dense arching clumps and bear one sided spikes of flowers in mid-summer Although the flowers are not showy the foliage turns bright yellow in fall and remains attractive all winter.

Height: 3-6’
Bloom Time: Mid-summer
Light: Full sun but tolerates some shade.
Soil: Moist to wet
Hardiness: Zones 4-9

Blue Joint Reed Grass (Calamagrostis canadensis)
Calamagrosis canadensisNative to marshes, wet prairies, and open woods of the throughout most of the US, this clump forming cool-season grass has floppy leaves and nodding spikes of purplish flowers four to ten inches long in early summer. Spreads rapidly by shallow rhizomes.

Height: 3-6’
Bloom Time: Early summer
Light: Full sun to light shade
Soil: Wet to moist
Hardiness: Zones 3-7

Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans)
sorghastrum_nutans 2A native of eastern and central US, Indian grass is one of the components of the tall grass prairies and one most beautiful ornamental grasses. It is a warm weather perennial, with erect blue-green foliage that turns yellow ten burnt orange in the fall. Flowering spikes appear in late summer on stiff stems and are two to three feet above the foliage. Although Indian grass prefers rich, medium moist soil in full sun it tolerates wet conditions, some shade, and infertile soil.

Height: 3-5
Bloom Time: Late summer
Light: Full sun; tolerates some shade
Soil: Prefers moist to dry but tolerates wet.
Hardiness: Zones 4-9

Virgina Wild Rye (Elymus virginicus)
Elymus virginicus 2Virgina wildrye is a cool season perennial bunchgrass found in the eastern two thirds of the US where it grows in bottomlands, stream banks, and various disturbed sites. In addition to being a palatable to crops it is attractive in the garden and in arrangements. Its flower are carried in spikes six inches long and are carried on stems up to four feet long well above the clump forming foliage of narrow leaves.

Height: 3-4’
Bloom Time: June to October
Light: Full sun to part shade
Soil: Prefers moist, tolerates wet and dry.
Hardiness: Zones 3-8

Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum)
Panicum_virgatum_Heavy_MetalSwitch grass is a warm weather perennial native to North America where it was once a component of the tall grass prairie. It has a stiff upright form, showy flowers carried in airy panicles, and attractive fall color. The flowers emerge reddish to silvery in mid- summer and persist into winter. The leaves turn varies shades of yellow in fall.

Height: 4-7’
Bloom Time: Mid-summer
Light: Full sun but tolerates some shade.
Soil: Prefers moist to wet, tolerates dry
Hardiness: Zones 5-9