GGW Plant Pick of The Month: Sporobolus heterolepis

– Posted in: Garden Plants

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Oudolf Garden- Hummelo, Netherlands (09/06/2009).

I just returned home from my first trip to Europe. I was drawn to Grass Days at , the home and nursery of influential Dutch garden designer and plantsman, Piet Oudolf and his wife Anja. I won’t elaborate on the Oudolf’s SPECTACULAR private garden in this post. I’ll save that for a later date. Oudolf’s work inspired September’s GGW Plant Pick of The Month, Prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis).

Image courtesy Northcreek Nurseries.

Image courtesy Northcreek Nurseries.

Prairie dropseed is undoubtedly one of my favorite grasses. It is a fine-textured bunchgrass, almost hair-like in appearance. Deep green leaves arch outward forming large round tufts (18″H x 24″ W). In fall, the foliage turns gold with orange tints and ultimately fades to bronze in winter.

Image courtesy Missouri Botanical Garden.

Image courtesy Missouri Botanical Garden.

In August, open, branching flower panicles rise above the basal foliage on slender stems (reaching 36″ H). The pink and brown tinted flowers have a unique fragrance (said to be similar to coriander).

According to the Missouri Botanical Garden, where Sporobolus heterolepis has been named a , dropseed may be started from seed but does not freely self seed in the garden. It is a slow growing and slow to establish grass. Therefore, I typically start with larger transplants.

This North American native has a widespread range. It is hardy in . Dropseed is easily grown in average, well drained soils in full sun. The grass is tolerant of a wide range of soil types, including heavy clays and displays good drought tolerance once established.


Lurie Garden- Chicago, IL (07/29/2008).

In my opinion, dropseed looks best in a mass planting either as a or as the dominant plant in a matrix through which other plants emerge. Companions in a matrix planting include: early summer bulbs like Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ and plants with persistent seed heads such as , Liatris spicata, Sedum ‘Matrona’. Still other plants work well adjacent to large clumps of dropseed, including: Aster, Echinacea purpurea (cultivars), Perovskia atriplicifolia, Achillea, Echinops ritro, Baptisia ‘Purple Smoke’, Salvia, Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’ to name just a few. Have you had success with other combinations? We’d love to hear about them.

If the species is too tall for your garden you’ll be happy to know plantsman, Roy Diblik of introduced a dwarf cultivar,  to the trade. Diblik found the selection in 1994 in the Kettle Moraine in Wisconsin.

I saw a lovely combination planting at in Saint Charles, Illinois back in August including: Sporobolus heterolepis ‘Tara’, Amsonia hubrechtii, Allium ‘Summer Beauty’ (another Diblik introduction), Calamintha nepeta ssp. nepeta, Stachys officinalis ‘Hummelo’ and Limonium latifolium.

If this is your first time visiting GGW Plant Pick of The Month and you’d like to participate, simply post your comments below and a link to your own site where you’ve posted photos of Prairie dropseed and comments about your experience working with the grass, successful planting combinations, etc.

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Adam Woodruff

Adam Woodruff

Adam Woodruff has practiced garden design since 1995. He trained as a Botanist at Eastern Illinois University. Woodruff attributes his unique design aesthetic, naturalism with a twist, to early college exposures to a diverse range of plants and environments (collecting trips in local prairies, field excursions to bogs in Canada and treks through forests of the Northeast). He also maintained the campus greenhouse, where he fell in love with tropicals. In recent years, influences on his designs include travels abroad to Europe, Asia and the Yucatan peninsula as well as observation of the work of great plantsmen such as Piet Oudolf and Roy Diblik. Woodruff’s designs often combine grasses, prairie natives and perennials with lush tropical foliage and seasonal blooms. This harmonious blending of plant material that is not conventionally grouped together is the ‘twist’ that makes his style unique.
Adam Woodruff

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