Fall or autumn colors are not always easy to find in Texas. Often, leaves quickly turn from green to brown with no shades of red, yellow, or orange in between.
Over the next couple of posts, I will share some of the colors of the fall season found in my prairie. This post will focus on the grasses. Subsequent posts will cover shrubs and trees and then flowers.
Internet references state that the 'Dallas Blues' variety of Switchgrass, Panicum virgatum, was discovered growing along a railroad track in Dallas, Texas. The leaves are a power blue color (hence, the name) in the spring and summer and wider than most other Switchgrasses. By late summer, the five foot tall grass is topped with reddish purple panicles (flowers). When fall comes around, the leaves are ablaze with shades of yellow and red.
It is hard to believe that I am considering removing this colorful grass from my prairie. I really like it, but Switchgrasses are fairly aggressive growers. They quickly form large dense clumps with deep roots. I removed five clumps this summer and that was no easy task. I am debating whether to remove the grass entirely. Although drought tolerant, 'Dallas Blues' Switchgrass requires a little extra water in the summer to look its best. This year's drought and my lack of watering caused the lower leaves to turn yellow and brown by midsummer.
The Pine Muhly, Muhlenbergia dubia, was a standout in the prairie this year, especially after it sent out many buff colored flower spikes. The thin leaves of the Pine Muhly are beginning to change to the same buff color as the flower spikes.
The drought severely affected the appearance of the Indian Grass, Sorghastrum nutans, this year. Normally the grass produces numerous flower heads that rise up to seven feet above the leaves, but this year there were just a couple of flower heads and they were only a few inches higher than the grass. Click here to see how this same grass looked last year.
Bushy Bluestem, Andropogon glomeratus, prefers moist soils and grows in the front yard rain garden. Of course, even a rain garden gets dry when it does not rain. The drought stunted the growth of this grass and some of the lower leaves turned brown early because the plants did not get enough moisture during the summer. There is a hint of the fall copper color common to Bluestem grasses that is beginning to show on the leaves.
Finally, another of my foggy Thanksgiving morning pictures showing Little Bluestem, Schizachyrium scoparium, among the prairie flowers, yuccas and cactus. The copper color of the Little Bluestem was darker and more intense this morning due to the moisture in the air.
My prairie saw its first freeze of the season this past Monday morning when temperatures dropped to 31 degrees. We are expecting additional freezes in the upcoming week that will surely turn most of the plants brown. However, all of these grasses will maintain their autumn color and stature through the winter. In February, I will cut them to the ground to make way for a new season's growth.