Ornamental grasses grow wild on the prairies and in the woods all across America. Pennsylvania is home to native varieties of ornamental grasses that are used to add an extra dimension to gardens of all sizes. You can choose an ornamental grass for any sun or shade condition, any type of soil, and for conditions from dry, to moist, to wet. Plant ornamental grasses in mass plantings, small groups or in containers to give a deck or patio some depth and color.
Big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) also is known as turkey foot bluestem. It grows 5 to 10 feet tall and produces stems and leaves that start out blue-green in the early part of the summer, turn to a copper or orange-brown color in the fall and finally to red or burgundy after the first frost. Big bluestem does not have flowers, but it produces 3-inch long bronze or purple seed heads in late summer that grow taller than the leaves. The stalks for the seed heads have three thin branches that resemble a turkey foot and give the plant its name. Big bluestem is adaptable to different types of soil, dry or humid situations, and cool or hot temperatures. It needs full sun at least six hours a day. Established plants can take drought conditions but need water to reach optimum height.
Indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans) also is known as yellow Indian grass. It grows to a height of 3 to 8 feet and produces wide blue-green blades that turn from orange to purple in the fall, bright yellow flowers, and large, soft gold-brown seed heads. Indiangrass can grow in dry or moist sand, loam, clay or limestone soils, and in sun, part shade or full shade areas. It does best planted in a wildflower meadow or in a large group. Indiangrass attracts butterflies, but deer stay away.
Little bluestem (chizachyrium scoparium) also known as bunchgrass, produces thin leaves that grow in mounds 18 to 24 inches long. Thin blue-green stems appear in August and grow to 3 feet long. In September, the stems turn mahogany-red and produce seed tufts. The color remains all winter. The plant needs full sun or partial shade and soil that is dry to moist. Plant little bluestem in mass plantings to get the full effect of the colors. It attracts birds and butterflies, and provides nesting material for the birds.