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Plants


Blue oat grass works well in Autumn

Blue oat grass

Blue and gold aren’t just colours on a Notre Dame football jersey. They describe the fall garment of blue oat grass, a sedate beauty with thin, narrow, blue-grey leaves that grow in a rounded tuft. Imagine a mound of blue fescue, but twice as big, with tall, nodding spikelets that bloom in early summer. Blue oat grass is a well-behaved clump-forming grass, so it won’t take over your flowerbed, and it tolerates heat and drought once established. Gold comes into play in autumn, when the flower spikes mature to the colour of wheat.

Common name: Blue oat grass

Botanical name: Helictotrichon sempervirens

Plant type: Perennial grass

Zones: 4 to 9

Height: 3 to 4 feet (in flower)

Family: Poaceae

Growing conditions

Sun: Full sun 

• Soil: Average, well-drained

• Moisture: Average to dry

Care

• Mulch: None needed.

• Pruning: Cut back last year’s foliage in early spring.

• Fertiliser: None needed.

Propagation

• By seed or division

Pests and diseases

• Vulnerable to rust

Garden notes

• Blue oat grass is a clump-forming grass that generally stays put. Under ideal conditions, it may spread by seed, but it doesn’t spread by rhizome and it’s not considered aggressive. 

• Use blue oat grass in rock gardens or borders, as a ground cover or a specimen plant.

• The bluish foliage can be used as a background for spring bulbs, or as a companion for plants with blue, silver, or purple. It’s also good in the fall garden, where the mature flower plumes add a touch of gold.

All in the family

• Blue fescue (Festuca glauca) is a smaller lookalike of blue oat grass. This member of the grass family does well under similar conditions—dryish soil in full sun—but stays less than half the size of blue oat grass.

• Poaceae, the grass family, also contains bamboo, rice, corn, wheat, and millet—some of the world’s most important food crops.     

Purple prairie clover can really improve a garden

Did drought make crispy chips of your perennials last year? This summer, fight fire with fire. Purple prairie clover (Dalea purpurea), a North American perennial that shoots out fiery purple-pink bloom spikes from early June to September, is adapted to dry sites open to the blazing sun. Its deep taproot—often 5 or 6 feet long—allows it to thrive in conditions that would fry your average garden flower. Butterflies and bees like the flowers, and neighbouring plants benefit from the nitrogen that this legume fixes in the soil. It’s found in the wild from Canada to Texas.

Common name: Purple prairie clover

Botanical name: Dalea purpurea

Plant type: Perennial

Zones: 3 to 8

Height: 1 to 3 feet

Family: Fabaceae

Growing conditions

• Sun: Full sun

• Soil: Prefers average, well-drained soil, but tolerates both sand and clay.

• Moisture: Average to dry

Care

Mulch: Mulch to preserve moisture in the soil.

• Pruning: None needed.

• Fertiliser: None needed.

Propagation

• By seed

Purple prairie clover can really improve a garden
Purple prairie clover can really improve a garden

Pests and diseases

• Vulnerable to rust.

Garden notes

• Under the right conditions, purple prairie clover will reseed, but it’s not a bully.

• Purple prairie clover is small, so plant it where it won’t be overwhelmed by tall perennials. Good companions include butterfly weed, dianthus, mountain mint, and little bluestem.    

• Use it in rock gardens, prairie gardens, or perennial beds.

• Leave seed heads on through the winter.

All in the family

• The Fabaceae, or legume family, is one of the largest families of flowering plants. There are more than 19,000 species in the family. Some legumes that might be in your garden already are beans, peas, lupines, and sweet peas. Some that might be in your kitchen are lentils, edamame (soybeans), and peanuts. Some that you probably hope aren’t in your garden are clover and kudzu.