UMN Extension: Benefits of Native Grasses-Blue Grama

Hi I’m Mary Meyer,professor and
Extension horticulturist. We’re talking today about the benefits of native
grasses and specifically, blue grama. Blue grama is native to most of Central
and southwestern United States. In fact, it’s such a favorite in Colorado and New
Mexico, they’ve adopted it as their state grass. But in Illinois it’s an endangered
species because much of the habitat there has been lost. Blue grama likes dry sites, upland dry conditions and that’s why it’s native in the short grass and mixed grass prairies. In really dry sites, it will be a bunch grass and form an individual clump. In wetter conditions, it’ll be more
rhizomatous and spread out. In wet sites, it’s taller–will get to be the two and a
half foot tall conditions you see here where we have a heavy clay soil. But in
dry sandy soils it might only be four to six inches tall when it flowers. Ways you can use this upland blue grama
in your garden are… The two or three that I think of ours is an alternative lawn,
in between very difficult sites like sidewalk and street, and then on really
high dry areas or slopes. So as an alternative lawn, blue grama grows
slowly in and if you mow it once a month or so, obviously you’re not going to see
any seed heads. But it can tolerate some foot traffic and we have used it in
trials for low maintenance turf or alternative turfs or “no-mow” turfs, they’re
called now as well. Another way is in between a city sidewalk and the street
and roadway. And this area is very difficult, often dry, you don’t want
something tall there because you usually need visibility with cars and so on. So either blue grama or it’s other species–kind of its cousin,
side-oats grama work very well in those conditions. So the boulevard
strips are good locations for these dry upland grasses. And then the third
location is a slope area which usually dry, or upland
dry sites where they do like full sun. They do much better in full sun. But
places where you don’t want to water, you don’t want to give plants extra water, if
you’ve got sandy soils, light conditions– both Bouteloua’s (gracilis) will grow really
well there. (music) ‘Blonde Ambition’ is a cultivar of blue
grama that you might find at garden centers. This is a beautiful new plant
from New Mexico. Chartreuse flowers, yellow, it grows vigorously and taller
than our native species of blue grama. But it hasn’t been hardy in Minnesota. It
will grow nicely in one season as an annual, but it’s not winter hardy as a
great perennial. So for Minnesota, stick to the species. If you’re in warmer
climates, certainly try ‘Blonde Ambition’ blue grama. (music) We know that at least 13
different species of native butterflies or moths feed on blue grama. There could
be more. But so far we know the Uncas skipper, Leonard’s skipper, the common wood
nymph– these are insects that they’re larva–the small caterpillars–feed on the
grass. And then as they mature into butterflies,
the butterflies feed on native forbes or wild flowers…like Echinacea, liatris,
sunflowers and bergamot. So if you plant the grass and the wildflowers together
in your garden, you have all the plants necessary for the life cycle of these
great native butterflies. We know that white-tailed deer don’t
like blue grama. They don’t prefer it at all for eating
so it’s a good deer resistant plant for your garden. There’s lots of benefits to
planting native grasses including the benefits they give to wildlife such as
songbirds and turkeys. For more information on the benefits of
native grasses, go to the website:

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