The Green Desk

Plant of the Month: November – Indian Grass

Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans)

  • Native range: Eastern U.S.
  • Hardiness Zone: US 3-9
  • Sun: Full Sun
  • Plant Habit: Grass
  • Water requirement: Low

Imagine it is early morning and you are sitting near a thicket of Indian grass; you are quiet and can hear the gentle rustle of leaves. Curiosity drives you to open the curtain of tall grass and you find a cricket sawing a tune and nearby, the larval pepper-and-salt skipper munching away in preparation for becoming a butterfly. This intriguing Indian grass setting is not hard to create in an outdoor learning environment and can foster a number of learning and play activities. It can be used in grass mazes or to help define the edge of a path or setting. It also provides winter interest, standing tall with frost shining from the leaves.

As you think of where to install this grass, consider that it prefers to be in full sun with well-drained soils. If you have areas prone to erosion, Indian Grass could be a good solution as the roots can reach a depth of 12 ft. forming a network of binding strands. The potted plant may appear small, but don’t be fooled, it grows quickly and can reach a height of 6 ft. and a spread of 3 ft. Plant Indian grass in the spring or fall in groups of at least three; it has more of an aesthetic appeal when planted in groupings. As with other plantings, be sure it gets enough water while becoming established. Once the plant is established, it is drought tolerant, needing as little as 11 inches of water a year. Do not cut the grass at all for the first few years, after which cutting the leaves down to a few inches above the ground while dormant (when the leaves are dry and brown) may actually stimulate higher root productivity. This plant is found naturally in North American prairies where fire is a part of its life cycle, so cutting the grass infrequently with a weed-whacker or pruning shears simulates the effects of fire.

 

Photo courtesy of Terri M. Siegenthaler, Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center
Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Common License
Photo courtesy of Tom Potterfield, Flickr Creative Common License

Resources

Other plants that look great in the month of November:

  • Shagbark Hickory (Carya)
  • Blanket Flower (Gallardia)
  • Pink Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia)

A Grassy Rhyme:

Where the Grass Grows Green
by Gary Zimmerman

There’s a place I’ve been told
Where the wildflowers grow,
And the grass is a sight to see.
There’s apples and pears
And green gummy bears,
Growing from every tree.
Polka dot bushes and marvelous things,
Like orange caterpillars
And groundhogs with wings.
Its such a place that no one’s seen,
All where the grass grows green.