Autumn Natives

I live in a region with nearly year-round gardening. Summer is hot–that’s a given–and winter is chilly, punctuated by hard freezes–sometimes rainy, sometimes dry. Spring and autumn are delightful, even when spring ends earlier than I’d like and autumn arrives way after it’s due. These pleasant months are the best times to be outdoors and in the garden; I’d suspect that many Texas native plants agree.

Perennials in the Asteraceae family are common, but well-worth having. These cheerful Fall aster, Symphyotrichum oblongifolium, bloom for 2-3 weeks and I always look forward to their lavender display.

I like Fall aster even when it doesn’t bloom, but how can you not grin when you see these charmers?

This combination of blooming perennials and shrubs provides interest for the gardener and food and cover for birds and insects. The background shrub is Barbados cherry, Malpighia glabra. Its subtle pink blooms are barely visible in the photo, outshined by its more colorful companion blooms. White blooms atop the leggy stalks of Frostweed, Verbesina virginica and the red hibiscus-like flowers of Turk’s cap, Malvaviscus arboreous are worthy competitors for attention to the lemony-yellow daisies of Plateau goldeneye, Viguiera dentata.

More Goldeneye to brighten your day.

It’s not just flowers that add to autumn’s beauty, but native grasses are at their peak during this time. My garden is a shady one and I only have a few spots of truly full sun and therefore, limited room for the stunning native grasses that grow well here in Central Texas. Native grasses need the blast of the Texas sun to shine! But this Big muhly, Muhlenbergia lindheimeri, sits in one of those sunny places. It’s a gorgeous plant–even in winter–but in autumn, its fluffy panicles sway gracefully in the breezes.

The muhly is photobombed by a couple of branches of native Turk’s cap (left and front). The pinks in the background belong to the non-native Coral vine.

Be still my beating heart, I love this plant. I’m now growing several in my front garden (the back is too shady to host these sun lovers). This is the oldest of the bunch and I think by next year, the youngsters will be just as impressive.

A different specimen from the one above.

Another Goldeneye/Frostweed vignette benefits from the addition of Inland sea oats, Chasmanthium latifolium.

Inland sea oats are excellent grassy perennials for shade. The “oats” are chartreuse in spring, deepening their green during summer, turning tan in autumn. I think that the group in the above photo turns toasty earlier because it receives more sun. This group below, growing in my back garden and in significantly more shade, still retains some of its green highlights; eventually, they’ll all turn to a warm tawny until pruning, just before spring.

Texas craglily, Echeandia texensis, is a less common garden perennial than the others I’ve profiled, though available in some local nurseries. I purchased mine from Barton Springs Nursey years ago and mine have spread somewhat by seed, but I’ve also separated the fleshy roots into new individual plants.

The lovely flowers, alternately posed on tall bloom spikes, are small, orange-yellow and lily-like. Texas craglily is a member of the Liliaceae family.

The base of the plant is grassy, with fleshy foliage and despite its delicate appearance, a tough and drought-tolerant perennial. From its grassy base which appears in late spring and provides lush green throughout summer, the plant sends up bloom stalks in September, blooming until November. An elegant plant, the bloom stalks move with the wind, flowers and seed pods in almost constant motion.

This week marks Texas Native Plant Week, a celebration of the native plants of our regions. Texas is a big place with a wide range of topography and weather patterns, but there’s something for every garden, plants that will please every gardener. Native plants, Texan or otherwise, are must-haves for any garden. They’re easy to grow, they belong where they grow, and they nurture endemic wildlife. In the bigger picture, most regions enjoy a wide palette of gorgeous and valuable native plants: trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals, grasses and succulents. No matter where you garden and call home, if you haven’t tried growing natives, give it a whirl! You’ll be amazed at their beauty and ease.

Inland Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium): A Seasonal Look

I love this plant.

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It’s a beautiful shade-loving grass, excellent for erosion control, prized by wildlife for cover and seeds, and a water-wise choice for gardeners.

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Inland Sea Oats, Chasmanthium latifolium, is the go-to plant for so many difficult garden situations.

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What’s not to love about that?

Native to a large swath of North America, this grass forms a dense cluster requiring little effort by gardeners throughout its growing season. Let’s take a look at how this valuable wildlife and landscape perennial performs throughout the year–A Seasonal Look for Inland Sea Oats.

Fresh, green stalks appear in late February or early March (in Austin, Texas) after winter dormancy and gardeners’ pruning shears.   Those fresh, verdant shoots will emerge later if you live and grow further north.

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I usually wait until I see the bright green sprouts of new growth from the basal clump before I cut back the previous year’s growth.  However, one can prune before–it’s really a matter of aesthetics and available time. The dormant beige grass does get a bit tatty toward the latter part of winter so if that’s a problem for you whack away to the ground whenever the mood strikes! 20120202_16_cropped_4474x3299..newInland Sea Oats is attractive  in winter,  but it’s a good idea to plant it in companionship with evergreens,

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…just because it’s nice to have some botanical interest while the Oats are dormant.

During the spring months,  Inland Sea Oats grow,

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…and grow.  The foliage reaches two-three feet in height.   Seed heads develop in the late spring and early summer, adding texture and grace to the lovely grass foliage.

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Through most of summer, the foliage and seeds share the same brilliant green coloring.

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Elegant and lush during the hottest time of the year, Inland Sea Oats grass is drought-tolerant, requiring little irrigation.  In my gardens, soaker hoses lie along the root zone of most, though not all of my Inland Sea Oats groups and receive irrigation once or twice/month. I grow several groups that receive no irrigation at all and they endure our long, hot summers just fine.  In fact, it’s a greater problem if the Oats are over-watered. If watered regularly and year round, a greater percentage of Oats seeds will germinate, thus plenty of seedlings develop.  This might be desirable in a spot where immediate erosion control is desired, but probably not for most home garden situations.  I remove those seedlings which grow in unwanted places in my gardens,

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…but I haven’t found the Inland Sea Oats particularly troublesome to control.   This grass tolerates a variety of soil types and transplants easily.   Just recently, I separated and transplanted a group of three from another mature cluster into a spot which gets little direct sun.

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Peeky looking for now, they’ll return with full vigor in spring.  Inland Sea Oats perform best in shade or part-shade.  They tend to fry when planted in full Texas sun, though in northern latitudes, the sun isn’t quite so unrelenting.  It’s good to have a lovely and reliable shade plant, so use it in those spots where many plants won’t thrive–you’ll always be happy with Oats in a shady spot.   Beth at Plant Postings in Wisconsin recently profiled Northern Sea Oats (another common name) for her “plant of the month” choice. It’s always interesting visiting a garden with a different climate and soil composition to review how a plant fares.  C. latifolium is as gorgeous and valuable in Wisconsin as it is here in Texas. It’s a fabulous grass for many places.

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As summer wanes and the days shorten, the seeds of Inland Sea Oats transform from the their summer vivid green,P1040916.new

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…to the autumn’s toasty beige.

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I think my favorite part of that transition is during the actual color change,

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–some seed heads are green and some are tan.  It reminds me of a lizard in mid-transformation from green to brown.  I really like that.

Once the seeds have morphed to autumn beige, Inland Sea Oats is even more striking in the garden.

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Until a hard freeze ushers winter dormancy, the foliage remains green, though some yellowing of individual blades of grass is normal. Also in late fall/early winter, the seeds begin dispersal, either because of critter munching or seeds dropping.  The seed heads end up as little inverted “Vs”s atop the grass blades.

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Inland Sea Oats has so many good qualities, besides its good looks and its water-wise and hardy nature.  Highly deer resistant,  (go eat something else, Bambi), it’s the host plant to several butterfly species.  The stalks with the seed heads are also quite pretty in flower arrangements.  I’m not one to pick flowers from my gardens for indoors, but on the rare occasions that I do, I always add some Inland Sea Oats to pop into the vase. Whether the seed heads are vivid green or tawny-tan, the stalks add beauty and interest to any flower arrangement.

So there you have it:  a year in the life of the Inland Sea Oats.  A grass that most gardeners (and their garden wildlife visitors) will enjoy.

Spring,

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Summer,

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Fall,

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Winter.

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