While wildflowers may be the main attraction in a meadow, no meadow is complete without lush native grasses. These grasses provide food for grazing animals, seed for birds and contrast to the flowers. California has several native meadow grasses that do well in both Southern and Northern California. If not irrigated California grass will turn brown when winter rains end.
California oatgrass (Danthonia californica) is a common prairie grass in the midwestern states and in California meadows. It is extremely cold- and heat-tolerant and is also fire tolerant. The grass stalks can reach 15 to 35 inches in height. It will stay green all year if irrigated. Oatgrass grows slowly but remains in place once established and will reseed itself and spread. Plant California oatgrass from grass plugs rather than from seed.
Tufted hairgrass (Deschampsia cespitosa) reaches 20 to 36 inches tall and does best in part shade. This grass develops greenish-gold flower clusters in the summer and makes an attractive cut grass for flower arrangements. In California, tufted hairgrass grows best along the coastal areas (such as Mendocino County). This grass can dominate other meadow grasses, so California Native Grass Association advises spacing grass plugs out by 8 to 16 inches.
Despite its name, purple needlegrass (Nassella pulchra) is dark green in color. This is a low-growing meadow grass (reaching 18 to 24 inches in height) that can be used in transition zones or at the edge of meadows. It's the most common native California bunchgrass, according to the University of California, Berkeley, and is extraordinarily drought-tolerant, because its roots can extend 20 feet underground. Plant purple needlegrass by seed or from grass plugs.
Thingrass (Agrostis diegoensis) is a common component of California meadows, growing from Southern California through Sonoma County. This grass averages 10 to 12 inches in height and can grow well in sun or dappled shade. It spreads well. Sow thingrass directly from seed.