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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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Thursday - June 27, 2013

From: Evanston, IL
Region: Midwest
Topic: Propagation, Shade Tolerant, Grasses or Grass-like
Title: Illinois native grasses for shade
Answered by: Guy Thompson

QUESTION:

Hello, my grass has died in a very shady area (standard buffalo grass), and I took this as an opportunity to plant some native grass varieties. I originally thought of buffalo grass, but learned that it needs at least 6-8 hours of sun, so it definitely won't work. Do you know of any Illinois-native/midwest-native grasses that are low-maintenance, and shade tolerant, and possibly where I could get the seeds? Thanks.

ANSWER:

 

There are several grass species that should grow well in your shady area.  I will list some in order of height, with the tallest first. Sorghastrum nutans (Indiangrass)Chasmanthium latifolium (Inland sea oats)Schizachyrium scoparium (Little bluestem)Tridens flavus (Purpletop tridens)Elymus canadensis (Canada wild rye)Bouteloua curtipendula (Sideoats grama)Paspalum setaceum (Thin paspalum) and Brachyelytrum erectum (Bearded shorthusk).

I do not know whether you plan to allow foot traffic in this area. Inland sea oats has especially attractive leaves and seed heads 3-4 feet in height and will thrive in deep shade.  Canada wild rye is good in shade, but it matures early and turns straw-color in midsummer.  Thin paspalum forms a very low rosette but it does send up taller seed heads. The other species generally resemble each other and are probably best in partial shade.  You might be well advised to try more than one of these grasses to see which prospers best in your particular situation.  

These grasses are best grown from seed, which can be purchased online or from a plant nursery near you.  Good luck in finding the perfect match.  Here are photos of some of the suggested grasses.

 

 

From the Image Gallery


Indiangrass
Sorghastrum nutans

Sideoats grama
Bouteloua curtipendula

Canada wild rye
Elymus canadensis

Little bluestem
Schizachyrium scoparium

Purpletop tridens
Tridens flavus

Inland sea oats
Chasmanthium latifolium

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