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Add fall color and benefit butterflies by planting native grasses

Contact: Diane Narem, Horticulture Researcher,

Although summer may be coming to a close, it’s not too late to add some charm and color to your
Little bluestem Blue Heaven™
garden this fall with some perennial native grasses. Native grasses can liven up a planting with their interesting shapes and seasonal color changes and benefit multiple types of wildlife, including butterfly and moth species.

According to U of M Extension Horticulturalist Mary Meyer, native grasses require one month of good growing conditions to establish in the fall. This means you can safely plant grasses until mid-September. Extra watering may be necessary during hot or dry spells in the fall. Container plants with well-established root systems are the best choices for fall plantings.

“Many grasses are just beginning to flower in August," Meyer said. "They will soon start their fall color change, so August and early September can be peak season for native grasses".

Not only do they add beauty to your landscape, but grasses are also low maintenance and provide benefits to the environment. Once established, native grasses need little additional water because they are naturally drought tolerant. They also do not require fertilizer or added nutrients. They minimize soil erosion and increase organic matter, creating better soil conditions.

Native grasses provide habitat for wildlife, such as birds, native bees, and butterfly and moth larvae. Many species of butterflies and moths use native grasses as host plants during their caterpillar stage. The larva feed on native grasses, and some build shelters in the leaves and stems, while others hide at the base of the plant. Many of these species survive winter as larva and take shelter within grass plants or burrow just below the soil surface.

Native grasses that provide fall color and food for butterfly and moth larva include little bluestem, big bluestem, switchgrass, and Indiangrass. You can find these plants and others at garden centers throughout Minnesota. For more information on native grasses from the University of Minnesota Extension: Ornamental Grasses for Cold Climates

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