Headway Against Cheatgrass in Our Future?

I sure  hope so. I’ve always wondered about that fungus I’ve seen on cheatgrass. Wonder if it’s the Black Finger of Death?

Great Basin scientists unleash new weapons to fight invasive cheatgrass

I would like to comment, however on an enlightening chat I had with my great uncle. He lived through the severe drought years of the 1930’s here in Wyoming. He made a comment that “if it weren’t for the cheatgress the whole country would have blown away.”  Well there’s nothing like a glass half full kinda guy.

Why I Don’t Use Ornamental Grasses

Over the last five years I’ve seen ornamental grasses go from being unique to common around my town. Most of the newer homes and businesses in my area of central Wyoming have some ornamental grasses. Even though I encourage friends to use grasses, and I was a fan from the start,  I have shied away from using ornamental grasses in my own landscape. The reasons for that might seem strange.

Stipa comata shining in the sunYou see, there are few things I enjoy more than a beautiful, sweeping expanse of native grass; tall, short, or mid. I remember when I worked on the reclamation crew of a small coal mine, we used to drive past a native stand of Stipa comata and I loved the way those “needle and thread” seed heads waved in the wind, reflecting the sunlight.

Most range folks don’t like Stipa comata much. Those supremely designed seed heads wreak havoc in the mouths of cattle, sheep, and horses, not to mention once they imbed themselves into sheep wool, it is impossible to extract.  I’ve had my own dark thoughts about this grass when I raised a few sheep for their wool. But it IS a native, a natural part of our Wyoming grassland ecosystems, and it’s pretty hard not to at least recognize, if not appreciate, the way the seeds are so suitably designed for dispersal.

So I think my hesitation to use ornamental grasses is that I want that same effect. That big-sky-sweeping-off-into-the-horizon effect and I know I just can’t get it with the magical 3, 5, or 7 set up every garden design book instructs one to use. Even less applicable to my yard are the rows of (usually Feather Reed) grasses standing like little soldiers. I’ve only seen one application of this method that I liked up against a very stately looking wrought iron fence.

Wyoming Native Reed Grass

I want drifts of grass. I want prairie.

So, what to do? I think I will have to get bold and take out a whole corner of the yard and plant a simple, but natural, somewhat disarrayed stand of native grasses of the ornamental kind (ornamental being defined by the eye of the beholder.)

I’ll have to be careful. I want natural, not messy. Drifts, not junk yard. Harmony, not screaming discord. I’ll strive for that perfect combination that says ‘little house on the Wyoming prairie’ not ‘I forgot to mow the lawn or pull any weeds.’

I have my work cut out for me- a year of planning and preparation before I plant.

Native Plant List for Wyoming

For those just getting their feet wet in gardening with natives or landscaping with natives, the following list found at PlantNative.org is a good place to start. It’s not easy finding plant lists specific to Wyoming. I have no trouble finding native gardening information for California, or even Colorado, but most of the plants used in those states are not suitable to Wyoming’s climate.

Leymus cinereus Basin Wildrye in Wyoming

Leymus cinereus, Basin Wildrye, in Native Habitat

This list contains good, reliable native plant species suitable for the gardeners of Wyoming. I was especially pleased to see Indian Rice  grass (Oryzopsis hymenoides) and Basin wildrye (Leymus cinereus) on their ornamental grass list. Basin Wildrye reaches four feet high in natural habitat. It’s stiff, straight stems add vertical structure to a garden and can be used as a living fence or back drop to more leafy plants. I plan on filling a tough corner with it this summer.