How to Plant Meadow Grasses
Native meadow grasses are rapidly gaining popularity as both an alternative to traditional turf-grass, or a low-maintenance shrub-border. These grasses are easy to grow, have beautiful ornamental seed-heads, and are very drought-tolerant!
A few of our favorite varieties include Grama Grass, Sheep Fescue, Atlas Fescue, or for shady areas, Blue Zinger sedge or Pennsylvania sedge. There are dozens of grass varieties to choose from, and you should consult with a Landscape Architect to help you determine the exact varieties of grass for your site conditions and design/maintenance goals. There are three different ways to start a waterwise meadow each with their own list of pros and cons:
1. Seed it
This is the most cost effective way to start a waterwise meadow. But it requires any and all pre-existing vegetation, especially weeds, to be completely eradicated, otherwise you’ll just end up with a weed patch. Also, only certain varieties of native/ornamental grasses can be grown from seed, so again, you’ll want to consult with a Landscape Architect for help in specifying your mix.
This method works better if your irrigation system is spray, although I’ve successfully seeded a meadow with an inline drip system. Maintenance during the establishment period is extremely critical to the success of a seeded meadow and involves periodic mowing, and spot-treatment with a broadleaf herbicide.
Due to the maintenance requirements/methods, we advise not adding any flowering perennials to the mix until the third season. The typical cost for this method is somewhere in the $0.50-$1.00/sf range not including irrigation. It’s also ideal for larger areas.
Seeded meadow, recently mown during its establishment period at the Intergalactic Residence.
2. Plant it
If you have a small area and are the type of person who wants instant gratification, planting already established plants is probably the best strategy for your meadow! This method is also a must if you are still trying to control for certain types of invasive weeds. The other benefit of this approach is that you can plant flowering perennials at the same time as the grasses.
There is definitely a lot more work and up-front cost during the installation process, but the establishment maintenance period is going to be easier. We recommend using a pre-emergent herbicide (or corn gluten), spot-pulling/treating for weeds, and heavy mulching.
Another benefit of planting grasses is that availability is generally better for already growing grasses, although finding certain native grasses will be more challenging. Also, note that not ALL ornamental grasses are suitable for meadows. You want softer, smaller, and more rounded grasses for a successful meadow!
Planting a meadow looks a lot like planting a regular perennial border, with lots of individual plants like this one at The Healy House.
Our favorite grasses to plant:
Blue Grama Grass
Blond Ambition Grama Grass (taller and more showy)
Sheep Fescue/Blue Fescue
Tufted Hair Grass
Bluestem (as an accent only, since it’s taller/skinnier)
Pennsylvania Sedge or Blue Zinger Sedge (for shady meadows)
Blonde Ambition Grama Grass with Liatris and White Yarrow at the Dumke Arts Plaza.
Atlas Fescue meadow at the Dumke Arts Plaza.
3. Plug it
Arguably this is functionally the same method as planting it, only you are starting with much smaller plants. Again, only certain varieties grasses are available in this form. This can be a more cost-effective and a less labor intensive alternative to planting larger plants.
Our favorite grasses to plug:
Hachita Gramma Grass
Here is a resource for grass plugs: