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8 Best California Native Grasses for Landscaping and Gardens

California native grasses
Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / vargazs

Spruce up your garden and make it more environmentally friendly by adding some California native grasses which are beautiful and easy to take care of!

Are you a California local looking to get into native gardening? Landscaping your yard around California native grasses, flowers, and trees is an easy way to have a low-maintenance garden while being kind to the climate and wildlife in your area. It’s a good idea to invest in your outdoor space with plants that are native to the area and suited to the California climate. They don’t require as much water, which is particularly important in places that are susceptible to drought. Consider adding some of these California native grasses to your garden.

1. Red Fescue

Red Fescue gets its name for its maroon-colored tufts which appear atop its dark green blades. It is a cool-season grass, meaning it sees the most growth in the fall and winter, and flowers in the spring. It then lies mostly dormant, turning golden yellow in the summer, until the cool season returns.

Red fescue makes for a great lawn replacement because it spreads widely and grows similarly. It can grow up to three feet tall, but it’s easy to maintain at a shorter length if you’d like. This grass thrives in full or partial sun. While it prefers medium moisture, it is also drought-tolerant.

2. California Fescue

California Fescue is another cool-season grass, although this bunchgrass grows higher than Red Fescue reaching heights of up to four feet tall! Its thin, long leaves are typically dark or blue-green in color throughout the summer, and it grows in graceful, drooping shapes.

It is drought-tolerant, so it’s perfect for hot California climates. This plant does well in both full and partial shade. It does well as an accent in any yard, rock garden, or along the outskirts of a meadow.

3. Tufted Hairgrass

Another cool-season grass, Tufted Hairgrass is an ornamental plant that grows fine stalks with flowers a few feet above its dense, green bush. Later in the summer, the green grass grows high and turns golden. Tufted Hairgrass thrives in dense soils along streams and ponds. It does well in full or partial sun and it does require water throughout the summer, so it is not drought tolerant. It looks great when combined with ferns, wildflowers, or other shrubs and bushes.

4. Deergrass

Deergrass is a warm-season grass, meaning it is dormant in the winter and grows during the summer, flowering in mid to late summer. This grass grows densely, up to several feet high including its flower stalks. It does well in many different soil types, in both wet and dry conditions, and in both full sun and light shade.

Deergrass makes for a great plant in your garden as it helps suppress weeds and attract butterflies as well. Its extensive root system can even help control erosion along a riverbank. Once established, this plant is both relatively drought- and flood-tolerant. 

5. Foothill Needlegrass

Foothill Needlegrass is a drought-tolerant, cool-season bunchgrass that grows green leaves with feathery golden tops. It looks great year-round, growing tall and wide. This plant is low-maintenance and makes a great addition to any landscape.

It also helps control erosion and attracts birds to your garden. Make sure to plant Foothill Needlegrass in partly shaded spaces with well-draining soil. It’s traditionally planted underneath an oak tree, but you can place it wherever you see fit.

6. Purple Needlegrass

The Purple Needlegrass was named the California state grass in 2004. The green and purple leafy stalks can be found throughout the state. It’s a cool-season grass that can be found in California woodlands, valleys, mountains, and coasts. It can even grow in clay and serpentine soils. It’s easy to grow in your own garden, although it’s not drought-tolerant. Plant it in full or partial sun and water once a month.

7. Leafy Reed Grass

Leafy Reed Grass grows as a bush of long, drooping blueish leaves with feathery flowers. It is native to coastal lands, so it requires good drainage. This cool-season grass requires regular watering and some shade as well. Plant it alongside other flowers, bushes, or next to a stream within your rock garden! Just make sure not to cut the leaves back. Leafy Reed Grass is low maintenance and does not respond well to heavy trims.

8. California Melic Grass

California Melic Grass looks a lot like wheat. It is bright green and winter and turns golden brown in the summer. It’s a cool-season grass that grows in a dense bush, with flowers poking out several feet above the rest of the plant. This plant is drought-tolerant and can handle many types of soil as long as they have good drainage.

It looks great whether it gets water in the summer or not, and can be cut back or mowed in the fall. Add it to your garden for a meadowy look and plant it in full sun or partial shade. An added bonus is that this grass has an extensive root system which helps prevent erosion.

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