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Five native grasses for great fall color

October 22, 2020

This has been a wonderful year for fall color in trees, shrubs and grasses. Here’s a look at five grasses that are good selections for putting on a show in your garden in the fall.

Several dark purple or red grasses in a large planting surrounded by lawn.

Little bluestem, Schizachyrium scoparium

The red color of the prairie is often due to little bluestem, but new forms are often dark purple as well. In addition to 'Blue HeavenTM', 'Blue Paradise' and 'Little Luke' are cultivars that are colorful in the fall.

Switchgrass, Panicum virgatum

‘Cape Breeze’ is a new 3-foot cultivar that does spread out into a large mass, but is a colorful fall addition to your garden. ‘Shenandoah’ is 4 feet tall, a consistent dark red color in late summer and fall, and ‘Ruby Ribbons’ is slightly shorter.

Dried bronze flowers on a thick stemmed grass.

River Oats, Chasmanthium latifolium

Native to the Ozark Mountain area in Southeastern U. S., this shade and moisture-loving grass has conspicuous flattened seedheads that make a great cut flower and, while it may be short-lived, seedlings often appear nearby.

A landscape bed of yellow clump-forming grasses.

Prairie dropseed, Sporobolus heterolepis

The golden yellow fall color of prairie dropseed makes it a standout in a prairie. The species is about 4 feet tall, while ‘Tara’ is closer to 3 feet. Often the flowering stems are red in color.

A 5-foot-tall grass growing in a line of 4 plants.

Big bluestem, Andropogon gerardii

A large and often floppy grass and mainstay of the tallgrass prairie, new forms of big bluestem that are upright are now available. ‘Blackhawks’ is 6 feet tall and a dark purple or red from mid-summer through fall. ‘New Wave’ is shorter, greenish-yellow and hard to find in garden centers. ‘Rain Dance’ and Red October’ are other red-purple forms that do not lodge or fall over.

Mary H. Meyer, Extension horticulturist

Related topics: Yard and Garden News Fall
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