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My Favorite Plant: 5 Grasses to Try in 2020

UMN Prof. Mary Meyer talks about 'Blackhawks' Big Bluestem grasses
at Northern Green conference, January 2020.
Photo: Gail Hudson, UMN Extension
Do you have a favorite plant? It's fun to compare plants when there's snow on the ground outside! 

 At the January 2020 Northern Green conference in Minneapolis, 19 people shared their favorite plants as one of the educational events. Each person had three minutes to show a picture and tell about their selection. Five people selected grasses or sedges--in other words, one-fourth of the speakers selected grasses or sedges!!! 

Hakone grass. Jayne Roberts covered her
front yard with it!
Photo: Gail Hudson, UMN Extension
What were these favorite grasses or sedges? Oehme palm sedge, Bowles’ golden sedge, hakone grass, ‘Blackhawks’ big bluestem and ‘Goldtau’ tufted hairgrass made the cut as favorites. I agree with all of these great plants for Minnesota. 

Hakone grass

Hakone grass (Hackonechloa macra ‘Aureola’), was the first plant shared at the seminar.  Jayne Roberts, Roberts Horticultural Sales, is the unabashed "Queen of Hakone Grass"! She loves this plant and has propagated and planted it to cover most of her shady, sloped front yard. 

She does use irrigation and has great success at dividing and increasing the plant to cover most of her small, but typical urban lot in south Minneapolis. 

'Goldtau' Tufted hairgrass

‘Goldtau’ tufted hairgrass (Deschampsia caespitosa ‘Goldtau’) is Herman Tiedeman’s favorite plant, due to its cool season growth habit, 2-3 ft tall beautiful mound of gold flowers in late spring and neat bunch growth habit. 

He suggested this plant should be used more often where we are planting ‘Karl Forester’ feather reedgrass. This is a great plant for shade and moist soils. 
Bowles Golden Sedge planted among perennials.
Photo: Arla Carmichael, Three Rivers Parks

Bowles Golden Sedge

Arla Carmichael from Three Rivers Parks proposed Carex elata ‘Aurea’ or Bowles Golden sedge as her favorite plant. 

The yellow foliage is bright in shady sites and combines well with other plants such as astilbe or bergenia. This is an underused sedge that does love wet sites, but will grow in clay and loamy soils in Minnesota. 

Palm sedge

Nate Holmes from Countryside Gardens promoted the variegated form of what is commonly known as palm sedge, Carex muskingumensis ‘Oehme’. 

Slower growing and more formal than the native "all green" species, this shade loving 2 ½ foot plant is unfortunately harder to find at garden centers. 

It does not self-seed as much as the species and will grow in shade or sun and almost any soil. 

'Blackhawks' Big bluestem

And finally, I picked as my favorite ‘Blackhawks’ big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii ‘Blackhawks’), a 5-6 foot talk upright, dark purple, hardy native grass. This is one of the few big bluestem varieties that does not fall over and its dark foliage is dramatic and a much sought after color for perennials. 

This plant likes full sun and grows quickly. Although it does get rust or leafspot on the lower foliage by the end of summer, many gardeners will not notice this and it does not appear to harm the plant. 

Try one of these favorite grasses or sedges in your garden this year!

Author: Mary H. Meyer, UMN Professor and Extension Horticulturist
[Editor's note: Dr. Mary Meyer curates the grass collection at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. She is considered one of the country's top experts on ornamental grasses.]

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