Native grasses grow well in Steamboat area


— Kathy Conlon


Grass is the forgiveness of Nature her constant Benediction ... Forests decay, harvests perish, flowers vanish, but grass is immortal. John J. Ingalls

The family of true grasses includes pasture and meadow grasses, cereal grasses, forage, fodder grasses and ornamentals. Grass is one of the dominant plants native to our Colorado plains. Some of the native grasses grow better in poorer soils than many other garden plants. Grasses are an enhancement to any garden or landscape. Although Routt County's micro-climate limits our choices, some good native grasses to include in your landscape design follow:

n Blue Grama, our state grass, flowers in purplish bristly brush-shaped spikes and can reach a height of 24 inches. It is the dominant plant in short-grass prairies and is a valuable forage plant and soil- building species. Use in unirrigated areas and with wildflowers. Seed heads stay decorative for a long period. According to Karen Vail, a local botanist and Program Coordinator with Yampatika/Partners in Interpretation, blue grama is found in Northwest Colorado's mountain shrublands. It is a short, drought-tolerant, tufted perennial grass and can survive temperatures to minus 35.

n Indian Ricegrass, Vail's favorite grass, is a beautiful airy perennial tufted bunch grass with fine textured foliage and vibrant, delicate tiny white flowers with small seeds. The silky-tufted seeds are held on thin wiry stems that kink and curve. It is easily grown in clay soil, and prefers sun in dry soils, but also grows in ordinary, very well drained garden soil.

n Needle and Thread Grass looks delicate and feathery but is a rough pointy and densely tufted perennial bunchgrass widely distributed in native grasslands. Its flowers are pale green to yellowish brown with short branches that look like twisted bristles. It reaches a height of 4 feet. This grass likes lots of full sun, dry, sandy soils and is drought tolerant. However, it can be harmful to the eyes and mouths of grazing animals.

n Basin wildrye is a perennial bunchgrass native to much of the western United States. A tall grass that provides excellent nesting and escape cover for wildlife, it can also be used as a grass windbreak for wind erosion protection or to control blowing snow. Basin wildrye is adapted to a broad range of soil textures, but does not do well on coarse or shallow soils.

n Western wheatgrass is a long-lived, drought resistant, sod-forming grass found throughout the state, especially on medium to heavy textured soils. It has a high level of tolerance to our saline-alkali soils and can withstand periodic flooding. Stands are slow to develop from seed. It is a very good forage plant with blue-green leaves.

A native of Europe, Redtop has become so well established in our flora as to appear indigenous. A common perennial sod forming grass that occurs in a wide variety of moist to saturated soils of meadows, pastures, abandoned agricultural lands, vacant urban lands and wetland mitigation sites. This grass flowers June through August and does very well in wet meadows and along streams. This grass is feathery, delicate looking grass with flowered spikelets up to 1/2 inch long, and green or purplish-red in color.

Kathy Conlon is a Master Gardener through the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension office in Routt County. She has been a Routt County property owner since 1989 and a permanent resident since January 1998. Questions and topic suggestions for this column may be submitted directly to the CSU Cooperative Extension office at 879-0825 or you may email your comments to:


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Requires free registration

Posting comments requires a free account and verification.