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Mr. Smarty Plants - Native grasses and turf grass for VA

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Wednesday - February 08, 2012

From: Blacksburg, VA
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Turf, Grasses or Grass-like
Title: Native grasses and turf grass for VA
Answered by: Anne Bossart

QUESTION:

I recently moved to Blacksburg, Virginia. I am becoming involved with a church here that recently started a grounds committee. There is some discussion within the group of which varieties of native grasses to plant. Some sections of the grounds are shaded, and some have full exposure. Fully exposed areas are currently covered by turf grasses. Big blue stem, little blue stem, switch grass, Indian grass are under consideration for exposed sites. Should any of these be removed from consideration for this region? Should any species be added? As a recent transplant from north Texas, my mind gravitates towards buffalo grass, but I don't know if I am out of its native range here. Is it important to consider ratios for each species for getting these plants established? Another consideration is that some of the exposed areas are intended for foot traffic.

ANSWER:

All the grasses you mention for the exposed area are good choices for your area and are ornamental as well.

Andropogon gerardii (Big bluestem)

Schizachyrium scoparium (Little bluestem) 

Panicum virgatum (Switchgrass)

Sorghastrum nutans (Indiangrass)

For the shadier areas you might want to also consider

Bouteloua curtipendula (Sideoats grama)

Chasmanthium latifolium (Inland sea oats)

Deschampsia cespitosa (Tufted hairgrass)

or one of the many carex's native to your area like

Carex pensylvanica (Pennsylvania sedge)

Carex texensis (Texas sedge)

These grasses are all best used planted in drifts and not mowed to appreciate their ornamental qualities.

In the areas where you anticipate foot traffic you are looking for a suitable turfgrass.  It is not so easy to find a native one as most of the grasses used for lawns in North America are non-native adapted species.  That is because before European contact, turf grasses were only present in areas where there were openings in the forest that covered your part of the country.  You will find more information on that subject at americanlawns.com, this USDA publication and this article on lesslawn.com.

As you suspected, Bouteloua dactyloides (Buffalograss) is a possibility for your situation.  It is native to sunny, dry sites from Minnesota to Mexico but is present in Virginia.  You can also consider Festuca rubra (Red fescue) and other fescue mixes such as Eco-Lawn (which is not entirely native) and available from one of our associates Wildflower Farm.  You can learn more about Buffalo grass lawns and (just for interest's sake as you will always be a Texan) Habiturf from our How to Articles on the topic.

 

From the Image Gallery


Big bluestem
Andropogon gerardii

Little bluestem
Schizachyrium scoparium

Switchgrass
Panicum virgatum

Indiangrass
Sorghastrum nutans

Sideoats grama
Bouteloua curtipendula

Inland sea oats
Chasmanthium latifolium

Tufted hairgrass
Deschampsia cespitosa

Pennsylvania sedge
Carex pensylvanica

Texas sedge
Carex texensis

Buffalograss
Bouteloua dactyloides

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