Prairie DropseedSporobolus heterolepis
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Prairie Dropseed is a fascinating ornamental grass with a unique look. The very fine, thread-like foliage forms a dense, arching clump about 2 feet tall and wide. It is a fresh bright green, turning gold and orange for fall and winter. Sprays of pinkish flowers grow up in summer and through fall, with a unique fragrance. Its smaller size makes it perfect in small gardens, and for the front of beds. Very drought resistant, it is terrific for dry, rocky places, slopes, banks and retaining walls. This native plant is a key part of prairie planting, and looks great with other flowers and grasses from the prairies.
Full sun is ideal for the Prairie Dropseed, which grows best in well-drained soils, from sands to heavy clays, preferring poor, rocky soils. Once established it is very drought resistant, and great for xeric gardens. Normally free of pests or diseases, and untroubled by deer or rabbits. It is very easy to grow, and simply needs an annual cut-down, in late fall or early spring.
One of the things that makes growing ornamental grasses such fun and so satisfying is their diversity. Big or small, in many colors, with fine or coarse foliage, and different kinds of flower spikes. This also makes them incredibly versatile, and useful for creating many different ‘looks’. For smaller spaces, or lower plantings, where you want something light, airy and delicate-looking, the unusual Prairie Dropseed is a grass to seriously consider. Incredibly easy to grow just about anywhere at all, but preferring drier sites – and we all have those in our gardens – this native grass certainly is unique – right down to the special smell of the flowers, which is described variously as coriander, popcorn or sunflower seeds. We leave it to you to decide what you think. Forming arching clumps of fine, hair-like leaves, rising to about 18 inches tall, it looks fabulous in groups in the foreground of perennial or shrub beds, in natural plantings, rock gardens, set in gravel, or even in planter boxes. No collection of ornamental grasses is complete without it, and the birds will thank you for the seeds too. The leaves change from fresh, rich greens to golds and oranges in fall too, so you can make it part of your spectacular fall display. The flexibility of the stems means it stands up well in snow, so it can be an attractive part of the winter garden too.
The Prairie Dropseed is a herbaceous grass plant, forming a tight clump, and it is entirely noninvasive. Even the seeds rarely sprout in garden conditions. The clump sends up many very thin blades of bright green in spring, rising 1 or 2 feet into the air, and making a clump about 2 feet, or maybe 3 feet, across. Because they arch over the leaves are longer than the height of the plant. The look is almost hair-like. The foliage stays green and fresh all through summer, and then in fall turns bold golds with orange tones. From July to mid-September sprays of tiny pinky-beige flowers rise up on 3-foot stems, and these are notable for their special fragrance, resembling coriander to most people, but some have other opinions. Entertain guests by letting them guess the smell! The flowers become more beige when they mature, and unlike most grasses, the seeds fall naturally, instead of being kept in the heads – this is where the common name ‘dropseed’ comes from. Although seeds are produced, and they are a valuable fall and winter food for wild birds, seedlings rarely grow to any extent, so this grass doesn’t spread around your garden.
The light, delicate look of the Prairie Dropseed makes a very different look from most other grasses. Its smaller size means it can be planted at the front of beds, to fill empty spaces or create an attractive ground cover. Grow it with other, taller grasses, with flowering plants or shrubs, or in rockeries, on slopes and in retaining walls. Use it for contrast with plants that have large leaves, or use its rich green coloring for an unmown ‘lawn’ effect. Of course it is a natural for a mixed planting of flowers and grasses in the prairie style too – a great low-maintenance look that is very popular these days. Its tolerance of dryness and poor soil makes it great for those hot, difficult spots that can be so hard to plant successfully.
Cold resistant even in zone 3, the Prairie Dropseed is also reliable in zone 9 – so it can basically be grown successfully anywhere and everywhere.
For good results plant this grass in full sun, in any well-drained soil, from acidic to alkaline and from sand to heavy clay. It does grow at its very best, though, in dry, rocky soils – its natural home.
Prairie Dropseed is not bothered by pests or diseases, and both deer and rabbits normally won’t eat it. For ground cover, space plants 18 inches apart in each direction. The only care needed is to cut back the foliage once a year. Do this in early spring, before new leaves begin to appear. In areas with heavy winter snow, it isn’t going to be visible for much of the winter, so cut back in late fall to prevent the possibility of decay. Perfect for low-maintenance gardening, this grass is incredibly easy to grow, with almost no effort at all.
Prairie Dropseed, Sporobolus heterolepis, is part of the extensive prairie flora, and can be found wild all across the country, from Texas to Canada, and all along the east coast. It is less common in most parts of the west. Native Americans used the seeds to make flour, and it’s a valuable food for wild birds. Besides being a popular garden plant, it is used for prairie restoration and greening the shoulders of highways. In urban areas it has been used for green roofs, where its drought tolerance really comes to the fore.
The Prairie Dropseed is not widely available, but often praised by gardening experts. So we are pleased to have found a source, to make this lovely grass available to you. You will love its unique look, and how tough and drought tolerant it is. Order your plants now, though, as our supply is limited, and they won’t last long at the farm.