Native Grasses
For Use in Colorado Landscapes

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Why use native grasses?

  • Bunchgrasses can be used ornamentally as specimens or in groups.
  • Sod forming grasses can make great low maintenance turf and may offer savings in mowing, fertilizing and irrigation.
  • Grasses provide excellent forage and cover for birds and beneficial insects.

Native Grasses for Colorado Landscapes

Scientific Name

Common Name


Planting Elevation


Cool Season Grasses  Cool season grasses green up earlier in the spring and can go dormant and turn brown in the heat.

Achnatherum hymenoides
(Oryzopsis hymenoides)

Indian rice grass


To 9,000’

Delicate, lacy bunchgrass with attractive showy panicles.  Very low water use.  Short lived. Edible seeds.  Most well-drained soils.

Festuca arizonica

Arizona fescue


To 10,000’ or higher

Graceful clumping bunchgrass with fine-textured blue-green leaves. Low water use.  Tolerates light shade but not traffic.

Koeleria macrantha

June grass


TO 11,000’

Bunchgrass with attractive open panicles of flowers.  Great mixed with low-growing perennials. Low water use but will tolerate wetter sites.  Most soils and light shade.

Pascopyrum smithii (Agropyron smithii)

Western wheatgrass


To 10,500’

Sod-forming grass with upright blue leaves and spikes. Most soils.  Because it is strongly rhizomatous, it should be used only where there is adequate growing space.

Warm Season Grasses Warm season grasses stay dormant longer in the spring, and grow during the warmer season.

Andropogon gerardii

Big bluestem


To 7,500’

Robust bunchgrass with upright growth.  Turns red-burgundy in the fall with color retention well into winter. Tolerates most soils (esp. clay) and water regimes.

Andropogon saccharoides

Silver beard grass


To 7,500’

Bunchgrass with fine textured leaves and large seed heads which catch the light and persist through the winter.  Orange fall color. Grows in all soils, including clay.  Low water use.

Bouteloua curtipendula

Sideoats grama


To 9,000’

Bunchgrass with small pennant- like seeds on one side of stem. Very low water use.  Most well-drained soils.

Bouteloua gracilis

Blue grama, eyelash grass


To 9,500’

Bunchgrass with large curved flowering spikes that resemble eyelashes. Excellent lawn alternative.  Withstands moderate traffic and light shade. Low water use;

Buchloe dactyloides

Buffalo grass


To 6,500’

Sod-forming grass, moderate to low water use. Long-lived with a vigorous root system.  Prefers clay soils.

Eragrostis trichodes

Sand lovegrass


To 6,500’

Bunchgrass with a lacy, airy inflorescence.  Does especially well on sandy soils, but tolerates most.  Low water use.

Panicum virgatum



To 7,000
(maybe higher)

Slow sod-former with upright growth, vase shaped. Many delicate panicles, high above the foliage in some strains, turn reddish-bronze in the autumn. Often used at the back of the perennial border or as a tall screen.

Schizachyrium scoparium
(Andropogon scoparius)

Little bluestem


To 7,500 or higher

Upright growing bunchgrass with green to blue-green leaves and fluffy seed heads that catch the light, persisting through winter.  Fall color is a red to bronze, which fades slowly in winter.  Sun.  Good for clay soils, but tolerates most. Low to moderate water use.

Sporobolus airoides

Alkali sacaaton


To 7,500’

Striking robust grass with fine textured bluish leaves and a showy, airy, open inflorescence. Low water use, tolerates most soils. Easy to establish.

Sorghastrum nutans

Indian grass


To 6,500’

One of the most ornamental of the native grasses.  Upright growth with large tawny seed heads and golden-orange fall color.  Moderate water use.  Needs space to grow.

Note: Grasses prefer full sun unless stated otherwise in the notes section.

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Additional Information

CMG GardensNotes on Native Plants

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Author: Irene Shonle, Ph.D., Colorado State University Extension, Gilpin County

  • CMG GardenNotes are available online at
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  • Copyright. 2012. Colorado Master Gardener Program, Colorado State University Extension. All Rights Reserved. CMG GardenNotes may be reproduced without change or additions, for nonprofit educational use.

Revised August 2012

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