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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.

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

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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

QUESTION:

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

ANSWER:

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
 

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