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5 beautiful, pollinator-friendly grasses for spectacular fall interest

Texas grasses are a striking addition to the landscape, asking very little of us in return to look their best. Bunch grasses keep a tidy, columnar shape with texture and movement that provides year-round interest. Low on upkeep and water need, they really shine in fall and winter when other plants are past their prime. Unlike your lawn, these no-mow beauties offer a special bonus for native bees, birds and butterflies.  

How do Texas grasses help bees and butterflies? 

Even though grasses don’t provide nectar, they’re vital to the lifecycle of many pollinators and other beneficial insects. Native bunch grasses give ground-nesting bumble bee queens protected sites to overwinter. Over 70% of native bees nest in the ground; adding grasses is one way to ensure more pollinators survive to emerge in the spring. Discover even more elements to help pollinators and other beneficial insects make it through the winter from the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. 

Many species of skipper caterpillars develop only on Big and Little Bluestem grasses. Just like monarchs are tied to milkweed, skippers rely on these specific grasses to complete their lifecycle.  And the seed heads last through the cool months, feeding birds and squirrels, too.

Side-oats grama: the state grass of Texas 

Staying short in the spring, this grass mixes well with early wildflowers. Purple oat-like flowers with orange accents fall from one side of graceful arching stems. Blue-green growth turns pale yellow in the fall, with the basal leaves often taking on hues of red and purple. Makes a nice compliment to Little Bluestem but doesn’t compete well with taller grasses.  

Host plant for: 14 species of butterflies and moths including green and dotted skippers 

Get all the details from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Plant Finder Database.

Big Bluestem: a butterfly magnet 

One of the “big four” native grasses of the Tall Grass prairies that dominated the center of the continent (along with Indiangrass, Little Bluestem and Switchgrass). Songbirds love the cover it provides, as well as cozy nesting material and tasty seeds. Blue-green blades turn russet in fall and winter. Plant this beauty where you want to make a statement or provide a backdrop for fall-blooming asters and goldenrod.  

Host plant for: 22 species including the dusted, Delaware, crossline and swarthy skippers 

Get all the details from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Plant Finder Database.

Little bluestem: small and striking 

Bluish spring blades may give this grass its name, but the deep mahogany red fall color topped with white puffy seed heads are the most striking features of this 2-foot-tall grass. Planted in multiples of 5 or 7, it makes a dramatic focal point when the rest of the landscape looks drab in winter. Plants stay compact, reaching about a foot across.  

Host plant for: 8 species of skippers including the dusted, crossline and swarthy 

Get all the details from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Plant Finder Database. 

Indiangrass: a glorious golden accent 

This grey-green grass provides a subtle backdrop most of the year until it erupts with golden flower plumes reaching up to 6 feet by October. Leaves turn shades of orange to purple. Plant two or three together to make a dramatic statement in place of a shrub or small tree.  

Host plant for: the pepper and salt skipper 

Get all the details from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Plant Finder Database.

Bushy bluestem: a grass for wet places 

Bold, feathery flower heads catch the light and add texture to autumn beds. Especially striking when backlit by the sun; plant this bunch grass where the sun will glow through the copper leaves. Bush bluestem likes to have its feet wet, so plant in a place that stays moist such as near a downspout or low area where water collects. Just be sure that it is in full sun – this grass doesn’t tolerate shade. 

Host plant for: many skippers and satyrs 

Get all the details from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Plant Finder Database. 

For more great Texas grasses and beautiful pictures of them in yards, check out this article from Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.  


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