The Best Grasses to Garden in New York
All of the beauty and benefits of the greenery in the region.
Explore the ins and outs of the region’s most popular grasses.
HC&G/NYC&G: Which grasses are best for gardens in New York and Long Island?
TONY PIAZZA, founder/owner, Piazza Horticultural, Southampton: I prefer native grasses, but there are two nonnatives I can’t live without: Molinia ‘Skyracer’, from wet areas in Europe and Asia, has incredible seed heads, and Japanese forest grass, or Hakonecloa macra, likes shade and dry soil. You can put it in a dark closet, and it will grow!
As for my favorite natives, little bluestem puts on a great late-summer show, then goes russet red all fall and winter. And switchgrass is a dramatic workhorse that matches the scale of nonnative miscanthus. Eragrostis spectabilis, or purple lovegrass, has a stunning purple haze, and native carexes can be indispensable to garden designers.
How do you keep grasses from crowding out flowering plants?
It’s tricky. I suggest planting for diversity and letting the grasses duke it out. If something becomes thuggy, it might need an attitude change.
How are grasses beneficial?
As buffer plants and when incorporated into bioswales, they slow down rainwater as it seeps into the water table, and their root masses can absorb soluble nitrogen, which helps deter algae blooms. All sorts of beneficial insects overwinter in the stems and crowns of grasses, and even better, deer don’t eat most grasses.
Can you just let a lawn go?
There’s a trend toward reducing highly maintained lawns—think of it as getting rid of the wall-to-wall and going for area rugs instead. You can let a lawn go, but it will take a long time for it to become a proper meadow. Red fescue, popular in lawn mixes, has a very pretty, wavy look when it is left unmown, but beware: It’s allelopathic and can kill other grasses and plants.
Where is your favorite grass garden?
On Poxabogue Road and Route 27 in Sagaponack, there is a property that is mowed two times a year for hay, and then in October the little bluestem is absolutely gorgeous. I drive by there on purpose just to see it.
GRASSES: 5 HELPFUL TIPS
1. A good balance for a grass meadow is 80 percent native grasses to 20 percent perennials.
2. Grasses perform best under natural conditions. Don’t overwater them.
3. Let grasses stay up for the winter, then cut them down to about 12 inches in early March.
4. It’s okay to cut back tall grasses in midsummer. They’ll bounce back and even flower.
5. Grasses look great in pots. Try Bouteloua gracilis ‘Blond Ambition’, which works with everything. And use seed heads of some grasses, such as Chasmanthium latifolium, in floral arrangements.
The print version of this article appeared with the headline: Blades of Glory.