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Light-catchers and beetle banks

Tanya Kucak/Special to the Town Crier
Blue fescues are bunchgrasses, forming small, undulating mounds either as single plants or as a groundcover. The striking blue to blue-green color can combine in interesting ways with other foliage colors or with flowers.

Native grasses and sedges are some of the most versatile landscape plants. They can:

• Enhance seasonal interest.

• Serve as focal points.

• Perform essential landscape functions.

• Provide ecological services.

Colorful flowers and fruit are typical markers of seasonality, but if you have grasses, you will notice their more understated seasons of fruition when the light hits them just right toward the end of the day. Nothing compares to the dramatic glow of grass plumes backlit by low-angled rays of the sun, especially when framed against a darker backdrop.

Warm-season grasses that are at their best in the summer include blue grama, purple three-awn and deergrass, whereas cool-season grasses that start to go dry in summer include wild rye, California fescue, coast melic grass and needlegrasses.

Deergrass forms such a substantial, symmetrical mound that it can be an effective focal point. In larger gardens, try a clump of tall native grasses such as Pacific reedgrass or a mound of eye-catching Canyon Prince wild rye in bloom.

Landscape design with grasses

Landscape functions of grasses include covering the ground, providing vertical accents and stabilizing slopes. Groundcovers can frame a view from your window or provide a neutral backdrop for showier plants. They include bunchgrasses like red fescue that form a fine-textured, hummocky surface reminiscent of gently lapping waves. Meadow and dune sedges, while needing only a fraction of the water and mowing that conventional lawns require, provide a similar uniform ground.

In landscape design, shrubs and perennials with strong verticality are often used to punctuate a landscape and relieve the monotony of a series of mounded forms. For instance, Pacific reedgrass provides a strong vertical accent. Color is another attribute that completes a landscape. A blue-gray clump of Canyon Prince wild rye offers coarse texture as well.

Most perennial grasses have prodigious root systems, which makes them ideal for erosion control on slopes. Top choices include fescues, wild ryes, needlegrasses, deergrass, grama grasses and alkali sacaton.

Finally, grasses serve important ecological functions. Near an orchard or a large vegetable garden, native grasses can serve as a beetle bank.

Beetle banks

You may have seen large black beetles scurrying for cover whenever you move something in the garden, but did you know that they are some of the most desirable critters for your garden? They eat more than their own weight in slugs, earwigs and other pests every night. To invite them to your garden, all you need is a welcoming place for them to shelter in the daytime and to spend the winter. Ground beetles seek out places that are high and dry.

Ideally, make a beetle bank by creating a berm or mound 18 inches high and plant it with a diversity of native grasses. When you cut back the grasses each season, be sure to keep them at least 5-6 inches high. Spiders and other beneficial predators also will enjoy the beetle bank.

Tanya Kucak gardens organically. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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