CO-Horts Blog

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Grasses for Winter Interest

By Amy Lentz, Weld County Extension

I know most of you are itching for Spring…I am too, trust me! However, there are still many things in the landscape that can peak your horticultural interests like evergreen trees and perennial plants that were not cut back in the fall. But, my favorite thing to look at in the winter are the amazing ornamental grasses that grow so well in Colorado. Most of us think of mountains when we think of Colorado, but about 40% of our state is a prairie – perfect for growing grasses.

A couple weeks ago, on a nice warm winter day, I decided to go check out some wonderful grasses growing at one of my favorite public gardens in northern Colorado, Treasure Island Demonstration Garden in Windsor. 

The grass garden at Treasure Island Demonstration Garden in Windsor, CO.
The first grass that grabbed by attention as I was walking around the garden was Miscanthus sinensis 'Strictus' (aka porcupine grass, Chinese silver grass or maidenhair grass). 

This particular grass is not native to Colorado, but grows quite well along the lower elevations of the front range. It grows to a height of between 4 and 9 feet and a spread of 2 to 6 feet. The fall/winter color is a standard 'straw' color, but it's the seed head that will make you stop in your tracks and say "what is that?"! 
Miscanthus sinensis plant

Wow - Miscanthus seed heads
The next grass that "wow'ed" me is one of my all-time favorite native ornamental grasses - Schizachyrium scoparium or little bluestem. This particular cultivar was called 'Prairie Blues', but in the fall and winter it has an amazing reddish hue that stands out beyond all other grasses in the landscape. The seed heads also do an amazing job at capturing the sunlight - simply stunning!

Little bluestem

Little bluestem seed heads
Another great grass that is becoming more and more popular in Colorado is the Blonde Ambition blue grama grass or Bouteloua gracilis 'Blonde Ambition'.  This grass grows to a size of about 1 to 3 feet in height and spread and is very low maintenance. This particular type is part of the Plant Select program through Colorado State University and Denver Botanic Gardens that recommends plants that do well in our area Blonde ambition really takes the stage in winter when it gets to show off its unique blooms that mimic eyelashes!

Bouteloua gracilis 'Blonde Ambition'

Those eyelashes!!!
A few other grasses in the garden deserve mentioning, as well, for their great seed heads. Switchgrass has amazing seed heads that remind me of fireworks. 

Switchgrass seed heads
Korean feather reed grass has seed heads that are upright and bushy and are easily noticed from afar.

Korean feather reed grass seed heads
Prairie dropseed is a native grass that has cute 'bottle brush' type seed heads that stand high above the mound of grass.
Prairie drop seed
All of these grasses are easy to grow in our prairie state of Colorado at lower elevations, require very little maintenance (just a quick pruning to the ground in the spring), and will thrive with little water once established. So embrace them and enjoy their beauty this winter while you are waiting on spring to arrive!


  1. Informative and interesting feature. I do enjoy ornamental grasses in a landscape. Thank you!
    Jan Stoven

  2. I put in 3 blonde ambitions last year and love them. They're shorter and the seed heads are such fun!

  3. Lovely photos. It's easy to look past the ornamental grasses sometimes. I've heard "Blonde Ambition" seed heads described as eyebrows, eyelashes or mustaches.