En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
rate this answer
2 ratings

Sunday - December 06, 2009

From: Hampton Bays, NY
Region: Northeast
Topic: Grasses or Grass-like
Title: When to plant grasses on Long Island, NY
Answered by: Nan Hampton


Dear Mr. Smarty Plants; Are there any grass seeds that I can plant NOW, early December, on Long Island, NY? The planting environment is on and near a sandy bluff on a bayshore, where it can be windy at times, and salty air from the bay. For example, can I plant Little Bluestem and/or Big Bluestem seeds now? Are there any other grasses that I can plant as seeds now? Thank you. Richard


It probably won't hurt to sow your grass seeds now, but they will most likely lie dormant and not germinate until the onset of the warm spring rains.  Sea Grant New York and Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County has an excellent article that recommends planting native grasses in the spring.  Indeed, Cornell University and St. Lawrence County Extension recommend sowing switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) when the soil temperature has reached 60° F in the spring.  Generally, seeds do well if they are sown when they would fall naturally from the plant. For most of the species listed below that would have been late summer or early fall.  However, at least some of those seeds that naturally fall from the plants no doubt become food for small rodents and birds.  So, your best bet for commercially purchased seeds, it would seem, is to sow them in the spring when they have a chance to germinate quickly.

It sounds as if you need to consider grasses with some salt tolerance.  New York City Department of Parks & Recreation lists the following grasses as salt tolerant:

Ammophila breviligulata (American beachgrass)

Distichlis spicata (saltgrass) and here are photos and more information

Panicum amarum (bitter panicgrass) and here are photos

Spartina alterniflora (smooth cordgrass)

Spartina patens (saltmeadow cordgrass) and here are photos and more information

Spartina pectinata (prairie cordgrass)

Panicum virgatum (switchgrass) moderately salt tolerant

Schizachyrium scoparium (little bluestem)

Not on their list:

Andropogon gerardii (big bluestem) moderately salt tolerant

Andropogon virginicus (broomsedge bluestem) salt tolerant

Deschampsia cespitosa salt tolerant

Sorghastrum nutans (Indiangrass) is on the Native Plant Society of New Jersey's List of Coastal Plants—Salt Tolerant.

Here are some photos from our Image Gallery:

Ammophila breviligulata

Spartina alterniflora

Spartina pectinata

Panicum virgatum

Schizachyrium scoparium

Andropogon gerardii

Andropogon virginicus

Deschampsia cespitosa

Sorghastrum nutans

More Grasses or Grass-like Questions

Erosion prevention on shady Pennsylvania stream
July 28, 2011 - I'm looking for a few species to plant along a stream channel to help reduce erosion during heavy rains. The soil is moist and in full shade. Ferns and thorny bushes are the only current vegetation...
view the full question and answer

Grasses for area under pecan tree in Tennessee
March 26, 2009 - I have two big pecan trees in my yard and would like to know what kind of grasses would thrive in the shade and also survive for my area of the country.
view the full question and answer

Stabilizing a sand bank in VT
August 13, 2011 - We have a summer cottage in Burlington, Vt. and need to stabilize a mound of sand. The "bank" we are trying to stabilize has partial sun and faces south. It measures approx 4' high and is 30' long...
view the full question and answer

Controlling weeds in Habiturf lawn
May 16, 2015 - What's the best way to get rid of weeds in a Habiturf lawn? Habiturf seems like a great idea, but even with no extra water and no fertilizer, it seems the weeds take over - K.R. Bluestem and various...
view the full question and answer

Riverbank Plants for Minnesota
September 04, 2013 - I would like to stablize a steep riverbank slope along the Upper Mississippi in St. Cloud MN. The slopes are almost 1:1. We are using an open cell concrete matt in which we are going to plant native...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center