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Notes from Home and Native Grasses
August 25, 2008

A blessed week to you.

Summer was in full force this past week. We had several hot and humid days with the week ending, giving us some much needed rain.

This past week brought a birthday celebration for our now one year old grandson, with the birthday party held at our house.

I love grandkids,

They don't stay :-)

Akita and I go for walks on most evenings. While she is smelling the ground, I'm looking around and enjoying the different sights and sounds that "Nature" blesses us with.

Barn swallows are skimming the pond for food and drink and one time, there was a mid-air feeding that took place.

You're good when you can do most things in mid air.

Walks with Ziggy the poodle pup aren't as enjoyable. The Ziglet is to skiddish and nervous on walks, often cutting walk time short.

I'm hoping the day will come when I can walk both at the same time.

We had a couple of turkies visit this past Friday, that is the first visit since spring.

More fledged American goldfinches are visiting my yard now, especially the sunflower patch.

Goldfinches usually hit their peak around here in the first week of September.

I've mentioned this before, but it is worth bringing up again.

American goldfinches are 99.9% seed eating birds.

With this in mind, "Nature" prepared Goldies to nest so the hatching goes hand in hand with plants and weeds going to seed.

Here in southwest Michigan, they are the latest bird to nest and have but one brood here.

Still, I love the sights and sounds when 30 and more fledged finches show up and want food now.

Be sure to offer fresh water along with your feeders.

I have three different finch feeders, one is an upside down feeder. It is worth a chuckle ot two as the fledged goldies try to learn to art of hanging upside down and twirling upright.

Continue to care for your flowers and gardens, as there is still time to enjoy everything.

That goes for us people up North as well.

Last week you may have learned a little something on the amazing hummingbirds.

This week we switch gears and go to the gardens.

"Gardening for Wildlife" and backyard habitats are what bring in the birds and other critters.

Wildlife gardens are more than flowers and trees, grasses play an important role as well.

As a Naturalist, I enjoy most of wht nature offers.

There is wildlife, insects to study, I csn't forget the birds.

There is always something to learn on trees, shrubs, flowers and yes, grasses.

Each year that passes, I have a greater appreciation of the natural world around me.

To study, watch, admire and to be in total awe of God's blessings is a true inspiration to me.

As a steward it is my responsability to help keep our planet clean and healthy.

To keep things around us clean and healthy means to keep native plants and animals alive and well in a healthy eco-system or habitat right in our own backyard so to speack

This week I touch on native grasses of North America.

With the growing trend to go native and attract wildlife, native grasses are a must.

Natives are attractive, durable and in most cases very drought tolerant.

Yes, they will grow where the fancy, exotic grasses wont and the natives look good doing it.

Native grasses can be buffalo grass (used in many south and southwest lawns) to regal prairie grasses.

Can you imagine what the first Europeans thought when thy saw the great plains?

Legend has it that man and child would get lost and never be found in the tall, thick grasses of North America.

It's that time of year when grasses seem to dominate the landscape.

More and more home owners are looking at grasses as a way to 'jazz" up their yard, and you may be one of them.

But, many people aren't interested in grasses until they see them tall and in bloom (plooms) and a majority of home owners aren't aware of our native grasses.

The Miscanthus grasses offer several different heights, variegation and leaf patterns. Pennisetum grasses offer some attractive mounds and flowers heads, ideal for certain landscapes.

Feather reed grasses and sedges are growing in popularity too.

Trailing the pack but starting to gain in popularity is our own "Native Grasses."

Part of the blame is, because we (or our parents) like the idea of having something exotic and the fact that until recently, growers and garden centers weren't interested in "home grown grasses."

Yes, North America still has some native grasses and many are being cultivated for yards and wildlife habitats.

Many of our native grasses have some great structure, habit and even color, yet some how they were over looked in the big landscape of things.

To many of our garden flowers are exotic and there is the need to have exotic grasses as well.

Some of our natives grasses have a limited native range and growing zone, but many of them once were found over much of North America.

Natives can grow over 8 feet tall and be as short as a few inches. It all depends on youu or your habitat's needs.

Natives are green, blue/green, have shades of red and purple in the foliage and the fall colors are just that, fall colors of orange, yellows, rust, and reds.

What is more important when you are "Gardening for Wildlife is this............

Native grasses offer seeds for food for several species of birds and small mammals.

They provide thickets for protection and nesting spots.

Grasses also offer forage for some animals.

Many native grasses are very drought tolerant. Yes, they thrive in good conditions and do well in dry conditions (wont get as tall). Try this with a non native grass and it will brown up just like your lawn.

A main reason is the deep root system natives have. They go deep after water, where exotic grasses need to be pampered more.

Our native grasses were made just for your environment and your habitats.

"Nature" knows and understands.

I have some native grasses and I'm looking to get more because I enjoy their beauty and their toughness.

I could go on and on about our native grasses, instead I will give you a small idea of what natives have to offer for you.

Achnatherum or the Needle Grass family offers up a handful of species native to the West coast and desert regions.

These grasses thrive in dry often rocky regions and do well in desert gardens, offereing food and protection and now accent points in your garden.

Most species are hardy to Z8 and Z7,

Andropogon Beard grasses.

Beard grasses vary in height and zonal regions.

Many seem to thrive in dry sandy soil like "chaulky bluestem." A native of the southeast that is very drought toerant.

A glaucus-blue foliage in the summer.

Andropogon gerardii Big bluestem or turkey foot.

Of all the different varieties of Andropogon grass, A. 'gerardii' is the most famous.

Large panicle look like upside turkey feet (thus the name turkey grass), but the real beauty is every where.

Big bluestem is a regal grass, often referred to as the monarch of the prairie grasses.

One of the tallest of the prairie grasses, Big Blue grows to 8 feet tall in a well formed upright clump.

Big bluestem is native to most of North America and hardy to Z3.

Blue-green colors in summer reliably turn to a rich orange and copper color in Autumn.

A sturdy, long-lived grass.............. this is a must have.

Deschampsia Hair grass or tussock grass.

Hair grass can be found throughout much of the northern hemisphere, including North America.

D. 'bronzeschleier' is one of the best blooming cultivars of the Pacific Northwest.

A cool weather grass (which means it blooms in late spring to earely summer) and is hardy to Z4.

Eragrostis Lovegrass.

You gotta love that name.

Elliott's lovegrass is native of the southeast.

Another cool weather grass, Elliott's blooms in late spring.

Gray-blue mounds grow to 4 feet and is very drought tolerant.

Self sows and does well in mass plantings.

Hardy to Z7 and maybe Z6.

Muhlenbergia Muhly grass:

There are more than 100 species of Muhly grass and most are native to Mexico parts of the United States.

A true beauty is M. 'capillaris' or Pink muhly/pink hair grass.

Native mostly on sandy or rocky soils, in prairies, pine barrens and openings in wooldlands.

Pink muhly is native to Massachusetts to Kansas and to the Gulf Coast.

The dark green foliage topped by pink panicles from September to november is a real show stopper.

Plants grow to three feet. and is hardy to Z6 and maybe Z5.

As are most native grasses this one is drought tolerant, I am hopping to find out how this grass does in my Michigan yard, as I have some seedlings growing that were givin to me from a cyber friend in Kentucky this spring.

Many Muhlenbergia grasses thrive in the southwest and southern plains and prairies and along the Atlantic coast region.

Mant of these native grasses are hardy to Z7 and Z8.

Panicum Switchgrass:

Switchgrass is another main stay of the Prairie and Great Plains.

Swithgrass is also native to much of North America as small pockets of it still grow wild throught.

Panicums can be found along the East coast, to the West. In open field fields, swamps, forests, subtropical regions, deserts and temperate North America.

Several different cultivars make Panicum grass a favorite of mine.

Strong erect grass that stands up through heavy rains and winds. Even after a long snowy winter, Switchgrasses can be found standing tall.

Open, airy blooms and seed heads are very attractive and work well in flower and dry arrangements.

As with other grass, seeds offer food for fall and winter birds and small critters.

'Blue tower' and 'cloud nine grow to 8 feet and are hardy to Z4

'Heavy metal' and 'Shenandoah' are focal points in my yard.

'Heavy metal' grows to 5 feet and is a glaucous-blue.

'Shenandoah' turns red to purple as the season wears on.

Both bloom in late July to August and stand erect, even after a heavy rain and wind storm.

As with all Switchgrass, the panicles are open and airy, very elegant looking.

'Prairie fire' is another beautiful cultivar as the name implies.

I'll finish things off with......

Sorghastrum Indian grass:

Another grass of the Great Plains, Indian grass is native to dry slopes and open woods from Quebec to Mexico.

Foliage is a glacous-blue and grows to 7 feet, but more apt to be around 5 feet tall.

Another upright clumping grass that grows in just about any soil.

Copper colored blooms in August and the foliage turns a bright orange for fall colors.

As the name implies, Indian grass was a main stay for American Indians as they used it to weave baskets and other essentials.

All of these grasses offer something for wildlife and as you now know, offer some appeal in any regional garden.

Over the past several years I have really grown to appreciate our native plants and that includes the hard luck grasses.

While exotic grasses offer some appeal, nothing beats what is growing right here in North America.

Strong, hardy, deep roots, resistant, beauty, protection and food.

You can't beat that.

Depending where you are, turkies, quail, juncos, other sparrows and several species of birds will enjoy your grass.

Some birds will even nest if you have a large patch of "Native Grasses"

Don't forget they are drought tolerant.

They may not grow as tall as they would, but they stay green and keep going.

You can't say that about many of the exotic grasses.

Plant some in your habitats today.

Did I mention, You have 100's of varieties to choose from.

Well, it's time to fly for now.

Before I go, here is your though for the week.

The person who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.

-- Chinese proverb

Do you have a mountain you need to remove?

Well, time to smile and start carrying away those small stones.

Your mountain could be anything, but there is a way to move it.

Start with a smile and whistle why you work.

Share a smile and you just might get some help with your mountain.

There's no time like the present, now is there.

Until next time my friend.

"Treat the earth well:

It was not given to you by your parents,

It was loaned to you by your children.

We do not inherit the Earth from our

Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children."

Ancient Indian Proverb

Your friend indeed,

Ron Patterson

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Gardening For Wildlife.

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