Oat grass, any of the perennial plants of two genera of grasses, Arrhenatherum and Danthonia (family Poaceae). Named for their similarity to true oats (Avena sativa), the plants generally feature long dense spikelets of seeds. Several species are grown as forage and pasture grasses.
Approximately six or seven species of tall grasses native to temperate Europe and Asia constitute the genus Arrhenatherum. Tall oat grass (A. elatius), which has been introduced into various countries as a pasture grass, grows wild in many areas and is considered a weed. Onion couch, a variety of tall oat grass (A. elatius, variety bulbosum) named for its bulblike basal stems, is a noxious weed in areas outside its native range.
Also known as heathgrass, most of the more than 100 species of the genus Danthonia are native to temperate regions of the Southern Hemisphere. They are important forage grasses in Australia, New Zealand, and South America. Australian species are commonly called wallaby grasses. Poverty oat grass (D. spicata) is a grayish green mat-forming species that grows on dry poor soil in many parts of North America.
Oat grass joins other powerhouse grasses such as wheatgrass and alfalfa. They have been called one of nature’s finest medicines.
Let’s take an in-depth look at oat grass, AKA blue oat grass! While oats in their grass form may be most commonly used for horses, there are plenty of nutritional uses for humans as well. In fact, oat grass may just be another super food! So, let’s take a closer look…
Oat grass is part of the cereal grass family and joins other powerhouse grasses such as wheatgrass and barley grass. These green grasses (either juiced or freeze dried and powdered) have been called some of nature’s finest medicines. They contain chlorophyll, enzymes, vitamins, and nutrients that are essential for a healthy body. Like the other cereal grasses, oat grass contains beta-carotene, vitamins K and C, folic acid, calcium, iron, protein, fiber, and B vitamins; it also has up to 30% protein and is illuminated with rich chlorophyll – nature’s blood cleanser.
Oat grass has a relaxing and stimulating action that both nourishes and strengthens the nervous system and has been shown to be helpful for women’s health issues, arthritis, rheumatism, stress, depression, debility, exhaustion, nerve tremors, epilepsy, convalescence, palpitations, nervous headache, nervous stomach, nervous breakdown, cholesterol levels, herpes, and menopause symptoms.
It is also used for thyroid and estrogen deficiency, for degenerative diseases such as multiple sclerosis, and for colds — especially if recurrent or persistent. Oat grass is extremely rich in antioxidants, including polyphenols and one powerful antioxidant called tricin, a flavone compound that exerts smooth muscle relaxing properties, making it beneficial in gastro-intestinal cramping. Green oats are also high in beta-glucan, which helps stimulate immune functions.
Other oat grass benefits include:
Improved Brain Function
A study of elderly volunteers with below average cognitive performance scores published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine showed that oat herb extracts improved the cognitive abilities, resulting in improved attention and ability to maintain focus while performing tasks.
Help Relieve Stress
Taking oat extract may be helpful in reducing stress and anxiety and also help with better sleep. In addition, oat grass may help relieve depression and improve your mood. Maybe not too surprisingly, these benefits mean that oat extract can be recommended for smokers to ease withdrawal symptoms and reduce cigarette cravings.
While it may be tempting to eat oats in some of the more common forms such as oatmeal or baked goods, the best way to get all the nutritious, whole food benefits of oats is to take it in its grass form — usually as a powder, or juiced. You can add the powder to fresh fruit juice, and the taste will be much more pleasant. You will also find it as an ingredient in Jon Barron’s Accelerator Meal Replacement Shake. Now that you know some of the benefits of oat grass, it may just become part of your go-to health morning routine!
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Helictrotrichon at the Denver Botanical Gardens.
Blue oat grass, Helictotrichon sempervirens, is a cool season, clump-forming grass with steel-blue foliage. This is an award-winning plant for any garden. It won the Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society in 1993 and was selected for Great Plant Picks in 2004. The neat, bristly mounds make an attractive ornamental plant. It is similar in appearance to blue fescue (Festuca ovina glauca cultivars), but taller and with sturdier blades.
Blue oat grass forms nice clumps of steely blue foliage.
Native to central and southwestern Europe, this perennial grass is hardy in zones 3 or 4-8.The long, wiry leaves on arching stems are about ½ inch wide and taper to a fine point. Under optimal conditions it grows about two feet tall and three feet wide. Graceful flower plumes grow vertically from the center of the plant. Pale blue flowers bloom on beige, one-sided panicles in midsummer. It often does not consistently produce the attractive, arching four foot flower stems in more northern areas where there is a shorter, cooler growing season. The leaves turn light brown in autumn and persist through the winter.
Helictrotrichon combines well with other grasses and perennials.
This small ornamental grass has many landscape uses, with a color and texture few plants have. It makes a nice addition to the perennial border, particularly as a contrast to green-leaved plants. Use it as a single accent plant in the smaller garden or rock garden, grow it in masses for a fine-textured drift, or try it in a container. Blue oat grass makes a nice row along a walkway, or can be added to the front of a shrub border. It combines well with Russian sage (Perovskia), Salvia x sylvestris ‘Mainacht’ (‘May Night’), blanketflower (Gaillardia), Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ and other, more upright ornamental grasses. Use it to echo the blue foliage or flowers of blue spruce, blue junipers or blue-flowering perennials such as Campanula, lavender (Lavendula), or blue mist spirea (Caryopteris). For a more dramatic effect, try combining it with plants with deep maroon leaves.
Blue oat grass produces tall flower spikes above the leaves.
Plant blue oat grass in full sun. Well-drained soil is essential for winter survival. Although it prefers a moist soil, it will tolerate sandy as well as heavy clay soils – as long as it does not remain too wet in winter. Evergreen in milder climates, the leaves die back in Wisconsin winters; use a rake to remove the old foliage or cut back close to the ground in late winter. This plant has no significant insect pests or diseases other than crown rot that occurs in poorly drained soils.
There are a few cultivars:
- ‘Sapphire’ has finer blades that are slightly smaller and bluer than the type.
- ‘Saphirspudel’ (‘Sapphire Fountain’) is a finely textured, semi-evergreen selection from Germany.
Propagate blue oat grass by division in the spring or grow from seed. Sow fresh seed in late summer, keep over the winter in a cold frame, and they should germinate in spring.
– Susan Mahr, University of Wisconsin – Madison
Helictotrichon sempervirens (Blue Oat Grass) – A cool season evergreen clump-forming grass that grows to 2 feet tall by up to 3 feet wide with blue-gray leaves radiating out like a bristly porcupine. The light tan flowers are on erect spikes that rise a foot above the foliage in mid-summer, though flowering is not as strong or commonly seen in southern California as in areas with cooler winters. Plant in full sun or light shade and give occasional irrigation. This plant remains evergreen in mild climates but is considered semi-evergreen in areas that experience harsher winters and is hardy to USDA zone 4 and perhaps 3. In these areas it is best to trim plants back close to the ground in late winter. It performs best in soils with good drainage and may rot in heavy soils, especially if over irrigated. The blue color seems best in dryer soils when plant is in full sun or bright shade; too much shade and the plant flops over and opens up in the middle. Maintain plants by removing withered leaves as they appear or by occasionally pulling a steel rake through the foliage. This stunning European grass has long been one of the most popular grasses we have grown, but observations over time of plantings of it have us questioning its suitability as sustainable plant in our mediterranean climate, particularly in warmer southern California where it tends to last only a few years but does seem to perform better in cooler northern California. It is native to central and southwestern Europe (France to Italy) and, where it is happy, it is a great grass for use as an accent plant or in mass plantings. The genus name Helictotrichon comes from the Greek words ‘helictos’ meaning “twisted” or “spiral” and ‘trichos’ meaning “hair” or “spine” in reference to the twisted awns with the specific epithet meaning evergreen. Helictotrichon sempervirens won the coveted Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society in 1993. The information on this page is based on research conducted in our nursery library and from online sources as well as from observations made of this plant as it grows in our nursery, in the nursery’s garden and in other gardens that we have observed it in. We also will incorporate comments received from others and always appreciate getting feedback of any kind from those who have additional information, particularly if this information is contrary to what we have written or includes additional cultural tips that might aid others in growing Helictotrichon sempervirens.
Ornamental Oat Grass – How To Grow Blue Oat Grass
Grasses add drama to the garden and accentuate and complement other garden specimens. If you are looking for an attractive ornamental grass with a unique color, look no farther than ornamental blue oat grass. Read on to see how to grow this blue hued ornamental oat grass variety.
What is Blue Oat Grass?
Native to Europe, ornamental blue oat grass (Avena sempervirens syn. Helictotrichon sempervirens) is a perennial grass with a dense, clumping habit of foot long stiff, blue green foliage about ½ inch wide and tapering down to a point. Blue oat grass resembles blue fescue although it is larger; the plant grows 18-30 inches tall.
Flowers are borne from the tips of the tapered leaves tipped with golden oat-like seed heads. Beige panicles are produced June through August, eventually achieving a light brown hue by fall. Blue oat grass maintains its attractive light brown fall color through the winter.
Blue oat grass is good as an accent plant of in
mass plantings. The blue/green foliage with a silvery cast is an excellent eye catcher and accents the green foliage of other plants.
How to Grow Blue Oat Grass
Ornamental blue oat grass is cool season grass. United States Department of Agriculture zones 4-9 are suitable for growing ornamental blue oat grass. The grass likes moist, well-drained soil in full to part shade. It prefers fertile soils but will tolerate less fertile as well as sandy and heavy clay soil. Plants are usually set two feet apart to form a solid mass of foliage.
Additional plants can be propagated by division in the spring or fall. Blue oat grass does not spread via rhizomes or stolons like other grasses so it is a less invasive option for the landscape. New seedlings will pop up of their own accord, however, and can be removed or moved to another area of the garden.
Blue Oat Grass Care
Blue oat grass care is minimal, as it is a forgiving and hearty grass. Heavy shade and little air circulation foster foliar disease on blue oat grass but, otherwise, the plant has few problems. It does tend to get rusty looking, especially when it is overly humid and wet, usually if it is in a shaded area.
No more than yearly feeding is needed to keep the plants thriving and they should last for years with very little care.
Growing blue oat grass can be pruned back in the fall to remove old leaves or at any time they are looking a bit peaked and need some rejuvenation.
Of ornamental oat grass varieties, A. sempervirens is the most common, but another cultivar ‘Sapphire’ or ‘Saphirsprudel’ has an even more pronounced blue hue and is more rust resistant than A. sempervirens.
Forever on the lookout for low-water, low-maintenance plant possibilities, I have been happily surprised with the spread of blue oat grass in my own garden and have been wondering lately about its suitability for wider use.
There is nothing more satisfying than an unexpected garden success. When I planted my first clump of blue oat grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens), I was attracted by its symmetrical, fountainesque growth habit and compatibility — both with regard to design and color — with a wide variety of other plants. I never considered that it would self-sow and slowly expand its reach.
With some ornamental grasses, self-sowing can be a problem. That tawny Mexican feather grass (Stipa tenuissima), for example, should come with a caution label: “Likely to take over your garden and your entire neighborhood, too.” I have to confess that when I first laid eyes on drought-tolerant Mexican feather grass several years ago, I thought it was a dream come true. Its silky texture and kinetic quality, together with its bright green spring color and its transformation to golden wheat in the fall, made it the ideal garden choice. Every nursery was selling it. Much to our chagrin, we have since learned that this plant is a takeover artist of the worst kind and many nurseries are no longer growing or selling it.
Fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum), another widely utilized selection, can also be a headache when it self-sows. But if you still want to grow fountain grass for its overflowing effects, plant the maroon-leafed cultivar with rosy flower wands, tagged either as Rubrum, Purpureum, or Atropurpureum, an excellent example of which can be seen outside Gelson’s market in Sherman Oaks. Although it occasionally produces seeds, purple fountain grass is not invasive.
Enter blue oat grass. In our dry climate, while it does spread by seed, the development of new plants is so slow that you don’t even notice them until, suddenly, you see a flock of little offspring all over the place. Keeping this plant under control is not an issue. However, should you want to increase the presence of blue oat grass in your garden more rapidly, you can do so by dividing its clumps and planting those divisions 2-3 feet apart, a distance equal to the girth and height of mature plants. Incidentally, with any sort of ornamental grass, you can prevent self-sowing by cutting off flower tassels before they produce seeds, or before those seeds are dispersed.
If you want to intensify your blue experience, bring blue rye grass (Leymus spp.) into the picture. It grows up to 4 feet tall and, with thicker blades than the more refined blue oat grass, makes a bolder statement. However, the growth habit of blue rye grass is not at all symmetrical like blue oat grass, and the former — as it gains height — has a tendency to flop over. If you want to plant an area that formerly would have been taken up by lawn, for example, it might be sensible to plant blue oat grass throughout with accents of blue rye grass scattered here and there. Both blue oat and blue rye grass, as they age, will begin to lose their luster and display a preponderance of brown foliage as opposed to blue. When this occurs, rejuvenate them by hard pruning, but never cut back more than two-thirds of existing growth at one time.
This two-thirds-cut-back rule, by the way, applies to the rejuvenation of ornamental grasses in general. Where clumps of ornamental grasses are reduced by more than two-thirds, much less to ground level, there is a problem with water puddling in the crown, where blades meet roots, and the entire clump may rot.
There is a third popular blue ornamental grass, but it is much more finicky than the previous two, and you may want to avoid planting it altogether. I am talking about blue sheep’s fescue (Festuca cinerea). This is a plant that looks great in a nursery container — a soft mound of baby blue — and that’s why people plant it. It needs some sun protection to thrive and grows optimally near the coast. However, even under the best circumstances, it will not look good for more than two or three years. It is appropriate for edging a small planter bed but should not be used to make a bold statement in a large area since, sooner than later, it will flounder and need to be removed.
For more information about area plants and gardens, go to Joshua Siskin’s website at www.thesmartergardener.com. Send questions and photos to [email protected]
Part of the family of colours called “white”, silver can be a gray-green hue, a gray hue or a silver hue, all with darker and lighter tones. Gray-greens and grays will blend with nearly any colour and are excellent when used to separate discordant colours.
Note, however, that a pure silver, like white itself, should be used with care as it can overwhelm everything nearby.
* Watch for the animated hummingbird and butterfly with the plants that attract them. *
The deer icon indicates plants that deer are not usually attracted to.The best time and method to propagate plants can be found on our image-intensive PROPAGATION page. To help your plants grow their best, check out our FERTILIZATION page. To create your own plant partnerships based on tried and true color theory, check out our GARDEN COLOR page. To see if a particular plant is on this page press Ctrl+F, type in the name, then click the Find button.
CORNUS Dogwood, a shrub that can remain attractive throughout the year, has some forms with silvery foliage. Plant them in full sun to part shade and enjoy the show.
Cornus alba var. ‘Argenteo-Marginata’: Silverleaf Dogwood
- above: Eranthis hyemalis, pale Narcissus forms
There are other ornamental forms of Dogwood with showy spring flowers. Check them out at the link below.
CYNARACardoon, with wonderful silvery-grey foliage, makes an excellent albeit huge and dramatic background plant. Only hardy to Zone 7, it is worth growing as an annual in colder zones.
- with: 4′ tall Euphorbia palustris (Marsh Spurge) for foliage contrast with: Schizachyrium scoparium (Little Blue Stem grass) & Stachys ‘Big Ears’
DIANTHUSPinks come in a variety of forms with silvery foliage, usually with a grey or bluish tint.
Dianthus arenarius: Sand Pinks, 8″/20 cm, fringed petals, fragrant white flowers, silvery-blue foliage
in front of: Iris x germanica between: Nepeta x faassenii & Iberis sempervirens over bulbs: Iris reticulata, Iris histrioides major
Dianthus deltoides ‘Mrs. Sinkins’: 12″, highly fragrant double white flowers, steel-grey foliage
- with: dark foliage plants i.e. Heuchera
Dianthus plumarius ‘Ballad Blend’: colours include white, pink, red, rose, salmon, 15″, silvery-blue somewhat spiky foliage
note: some flowers are “banded”, all have dark eyes, may rebloom slightly in late summer, not as fragrant as Cottage Pinks synonym: Dianthus Ballade Strain with: lavender, Nepeta x faassenii with: pink Rosa of various hues
For a multitude of other Dianthus forms, more information about their culture and preferred sites and numerous images, be sure to try some of the links below.
ECHINOPSGlobe Thistle, its foliage a lovely grey-green, nevertheless gives an over-all silvery appearance to the spot it normally occupies as a backdrop in a garden setting.
Echinops: Globe Thistle Echinops ritro ‘Taplow Blue’: steel-blue flowers, 2″ across, foliage 6-8″ long, Zone 6
- with: Achillea x ‘Coronation Gold’, Kniphofia ‘Royal Castle Hybrids’
Echinops ruthenicus: bright blue
- with: Hemerocallis (especially lemon or creamy yellow ones with: Hemerocallis ‘Ice Cap’ (pale cream-petalled, lemon-yellow throated)
Follow the links below for more ideas and information.
ERYNGIUM Sea Holly, otherwise known as Eryngo, blooms in summer and fall and thrives in full sun and dry soil. Steely-blue flowers steal the show but the subtly silvery foliage is handsome even before the blooms appear. Choose the site carefully. These are tap-rooted perennials which are difficult to move once established. Eryngium:
- with: Artemisia x ‘Powis Castle’
For an amazing number of forms of this wonderful perennial, information about their care, and plant partnership ideas, just follow the link below.
EUPHORBIA You will be delighted with the effect created by the silvery foliage of some forms of Spurge.
Euphorbia myrsinites: Donkey-Tail Spurge, Myrtle Euphorbia, blue-gray foliage
Follow the link below for more forms of Spurge and the companions that suit them best.
FESTUCA Even Ornamental Grasses can possess a silvery effect, such as that of some of the Fescues.
Festuca: Blue Fescue, under 12″x8-12″
- for partnership ideas follow the link to Ornamental Grasses & Their Companions – 1
GYPSOPHILA Baby’s Breath, with its airy flowers, is as useful in the garden as it is in any flower arrangement. Consider as well the foliage – it can be blue-green to a gray-green which assumes a silvery appearance.
Gypsophila paniculata: Baby’s Breath
- for partnership ideas, follow the link to White Perennials & Their Companions – 1
Gypsophila paniculata ‘Double White’: Baby’s Breath
- for partnership ideas, follow the link to White Perennials & Their Companions – 1
Gypsophila paniculata ‘Perfecta’: double white Baby’s Breath
- for partnership ideas, follow the link to White Perennials & Their Companions – 1
Not all forms of Baby’s Breath have silvery foliage, or for that matter, white flowers. Follow the links before for alternatives.
HELICTOTRICHON Blue Oat Grass is often described more as a metallic blue colour than silver or grey. There are those who think its overall effect is silvery. However you describe it, this grass will fare best in well-drained, fertile soil in full sun. Good air circulation will ensure handsome foliage. Hot, humid summers are definitively not to its liking. Do not cut this grass back in spring as with other ornamental grasses. Use your fingers to comb out old, loose foliage. Helictotrichon sempervirens:
HEUCHERA Coral Bells, in its myriad forms, has nearly always been about the foliage. The wonderful variations create quite a sensation when there is a haze of silver above the underlying patterns and colours. The degree of silvering on the leaves can range from heavy to subtle. The cultivars mentioned below only touch the surface of the many new and wonderful silver Heuchera forms widely available today.
CULTIVARS WITH HEAVILY SILVERED FOLIAGE
CULTIVARS WITH MORE SUBTLY SILVERED FOLIAGE
For many more forms of Heuchera and the companion plants that suit them best, try some of the links below.
LAMIUM The groundcover plant, Dead Nettle, always prettier than its common name would suggest, has many forms with silvery accents that shine in shady areas of the garden. Whether the silvering is along the edges, down the centre or covering the leaves, the effect is always handsome.
Lamium maculatum ‘Beacon Silver’: 4″x12″, pink flowers, small silvery-green leaves, tinted purple in fall
- for partnership ideas follow the link to Shade Perennials & Their Companions – 2
Lamium maculatum ‘Shell Pink’: green with silver along stem (silvery striped)
If you want more choices, use Google Images to view some of the several forms below, then find your own perfect companions for the shady spots where you plant them.
Rich combination plantings with this perennial and suggestions for its care are suggested at the links below.
LAVANDULA Lavender has grey-green foliage that shows to best effect when planted together in masses. Try it and see for yourself.
More attractive forms of lavender can be found at the links below.
LEYMUS Another warm season Ornamental Grass, Lyme Grass, or wild rye, has a somewhat blue-grey appearance to its foliage. Beware of its invasive nature however and take steps from the start to curb its enthusiastic spread. If you are determined to give this genus a try, some of its forms are listed below. Do your own research to see which might be right for your purposes. The most attractive form is probably the first in the list. Some forms are in the Elymus genus, some in the Leymus genus. My updated information about the forms below is from Rick Darke’s Timber Press Pocket Guide to Ornamental Grasses.
Find more information by following the link below to our Ornamental Grasses page.
LIMONIUM Sea Lavender is sometimes called a Baby’s Breath look-alike to be used as a “filler” in the garden. Its flowers are produced in airy clusters and are good used as dried flowers as well as in fresh arrangements. With a preference for average to rich, moist, well-drained soil in full sun or part shade this plant is sure to find a suitable home somewhere in your beds. Site the plant well. Moving established plants is difficult but not impossible. To propagate, separate new crowns with roots attached from the outside of plants in spring.
- watch for a picture of this plant in summer 2007
For more information about this perennial, and ideas for attractive companions, follow the links below.
FOR MORE SILVER FOLIAGE PERENNIALS & ORNAMENTAL GRASSES, FOLLOW THE LINKS BELOW.
- Achillea – Cerastium
- Lunaria – Veronica
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DAYLILIES Spider & Unusual Form EDGERS Arabis – Iris | Nepeta – Veronica FOLIAGE PERENNIALS Alchemilla – Tanacetum HOSTA Hosta – all HUMMINGBIRD-FRIENDLY PERENNIALS Alcea – Salvia ORANGE PERENNIALS Achillea – Tulipa ORNAMENTAL GRASSES Acorus – Imperata | Miscanthus – Spodiopogon PINK PERENNIALS Achillea – Lilium | Lychnis – Veronica PURPLE PERENNIALS Aconitum – Liatris | Polemonium – Veronica RED PERENNIALS Achillea – Veronica SHADE PERENNIALS Aegopodium – Erythronium | Ferns – Polemonium | Polygonatum – Vinca SILVER FOLIAGE PERENNIALS Achillea – Cerastium | Cornus – Limonium | Lunaria – Veronica SIMPLY SPECIAL PERENNIALS Acanthus – Saxifraga WHITE PERENNIALS Achillea – Iris | Kalimeris – Yucca YELLOW PERENNIALS Achillea – Hypericum | Inula – Verbascum VARIEGATED-FOLIAGE PERENNIALS Acorus – Erythronium | Hakonechloa – Lysimachia | Miscanthus – Yucca PLANT PROFILES Dianthus ‘Tiny Rubies’ | Geranium | Geum coccineum | Kerria japonica | Knautia macedonica Paeonia tenuifolia | Papaver somniferum | Rudbeckia | Salvia ‘East Friesland’ Trollius | Veronica ‘Sunny Border Blue’ PROPAGATION DIVISION – SPRING ONLY | DIVISION – FALL ONLY | DIVISION – SPRING OR FALL | DO NOT DIVIDE FERTILIZATION
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