Many of our wild birds are seed eaters and will appreciate a backyard buffet planted with beautiful native grasses. The planting you do this spring will pay off next fall and winter when those birds are looking for scarce food resources.
Our native grasses are not only attractive, but they are highly useful in our backyard (and front yard) ecosystems. They provide functions above and below ground, crowding out weeds, providing support to perennials, adding nutrients to the soil, offering nesting and cover to beneficial insects, and feeding wild birds and small mammals.
The majority of native grasses are “warm season grasses” which emerge later in the season when the weather warms up. Most native grasses thrive in tough conditions with lean soil and little organic matter, and require very little care. Note that the grasses traditionally used for lawns are not native and are cool season grasses, emerging earlier.
It is a surprise to many people that native grasses actually flower. Grass flowers are not of the showy, colorful variety we may be used to, they are typically plume-like, producing an abundance of seeds. The ecological key is to leave native grasses standing throughout the winter, so their seed is available to birds. In the fall, you will be rewarded by lovely shades of yellow or gold, or often purple or red, as native grasses die back. By leaving the grasses standing through winter you will have interesting structure in what might have been an empty garden. You can cut back these grasses in the following spring, before the new growth begins.
Here are just some of our great native grasses loved by birds:
Wavy Hair Grass (Dechampsia flexuosa)
Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis)
Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum)
Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium)
Pink Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia cappillaris)
Purple Love Grass (Eragrostis spectabilis)
Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii)
Don’t forget to leave some room in your garden for the native perennials, trees and shrubs, also loved by birds. We’ll talk about those plants on another post.
Happy Native Grass Growing from Kim Eierman at EcoBeneficial!
Photo: Pink Muhly Grass
Photo credit: Flickr/kkennedy