Bottlebrush grass advice needed

Asked July 7, 2020, 9:01 AM EDT

Hello, I have bottlebrush grass that I planted about three years ago. It's in a shady area, and it's been a slow grower. (Maybe because it's a shady area.) This year it finally took off well, but the heavy rains we've had really battered it. I've attached pictures. My question is: should I prop it up with stakes? Or just cut it down near the base and try to start it all over again? Also, if there's any care advice you have for this plant, I'd be interested. Also of interest: I have planted ground cedar (club moss) in a shaded area, which I think it likes. If you have any advice on propagating this plant, I'd be interested in that as well. I used to see growing wild fifty years ago, and I never see it now - I'm trying to get it going in my back yard. Thank you.

Baltimore County Maryland

3 Responses

It's not uncommon for perennials to start really filling in nicely in their third year after planting. This native grass - Bottlebrush (Elymus hystrix / Hystrix patula) - is perhaps receiving too much shade to have a sturdier habit, though nutrient-rich soils can also promote flopping in grasses. According to a book on native grasses by William Cullina, this species "will tolerate full shade [but] grows most luxuriantly where it receives at least a few hours of direct sun." Either technique - staking or cutting back to promote new growth - should work, but staking is probably best at this point given that it's a cool-season grass and can go dormant in summer heat.

Clubmosses (Ground-cedar, Crow's-foot, etc...Lycopodium) are primitive plants and are challenging to cultivate, but they do grow in woodland conditions (shade). They used to be (and perhaps still are) harvested for Christmas decorations, which is not sustainable given their very slow recovery. Habitat degradation may also be to blame for their scarcity. Some species have rhizomes that spread the colony; all will produce spores when mature (about 6-year-old stems) that shed in fall and disperse on the wind. Most species require particular symbiotic fungi in the soil to progress from germination into more mature plants (as our wild orchids do); this is also likely whey their occurrence in the wild is patchy and why they are not nursery-propagated to our knowledge. If your soil microbes are compatible, they will spread in time on their own if competing weeds are kept at bay. Their total life cycle is estimated to take up to two decades. [More information on these interesting plants can be found in the book Native Ferns, Moss, & Grasses by William Cullina, (c) 2008 New England Wild Flower Society]


All great advice! Yes, I first became acquainted with "Crowsfoot" as a boy when gathering for Christmas decorations.

Thanks, Miri.