Gardening with Native Plants and Grasses: Inland Sea Oats Thrive in Shade and Dance in the Wind

Inland Sea Oats Thrive in Shade and Dance in the Wind

Also known as River, Northern Sea or Indian Wood oats, Inland Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) prefer partial to full shade and grow in all soil types, from moist to well-drained. The wide-leaved, light green foliage resembles bamboo. Arching stems hold flat, oat-like seed heads above the plant, creating texture, and with the slightest breeze, movement and sound in the garden.

Inland Sea Oats
Inland Sea Oats

Inland Sea Oats in Landscaping

This clump-forming perennial grass will grow to a height of 2-4 feet, with a spread of 1-2 feet, in three years or less. It is best to space plants at least two feet apart. Sea Oats make a fine single accent under a tree, and are spectacular naturalized into a colony, where it will produce a sea of gently bobbing spikelets.

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A native grass in the Eastern U.S., Sea Oats can be grown in zones 3-9, and is disease resistant. For year-round landscape appeal, leave foliage in place over the winter. The gold-to-bronze panicles will compliment both evergreens and a covering of snow, creating contrast in the garden. Cut back dead stalks in early Spring when new growth emerges from the base.

Gardening with Native Plants and Grasses
Gardening with Native Plants and Grasses

Inland Sea Oats can be grown in pots around a shady patio, or planted on the edge of a backyard pond to provide cover for wildlife.

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Sea Oats are commonly available from seed companies and nurseries. Because of such a wide variability of plants, the USDA suggests using a local source to ensure success in your area.

Several Ways to Propagate

Inland Sea Oats quickly produce a colony, both from rhizomes and seeds that fall near the parent plant. These new plugs, as well as established clumps, transplant well.

Sea Oats can also be propagated by root division and from seed collected in the Fall. Cut seed stalks when they have just started to turn tan. Dry completely in an open container before you strip the panicles. Sea Oats are easily germinated year round.

Gardening with Native Plants and Grasses
Gardening with Native Plants and Grasses

Useful Native Grass

On a large scale, Inland Sea Oats are invaluable in reducing soil erosion, especially in dune management, according to Richard H. Neill of the USDA-NRCS Plant Materials Center.

Sea Oat seed stalks are highly desirable in dried arrangements. Unlike other ornamental grasses, the spikelets won’t shatter.

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The plants are useful in creating a backyard wildlife habitat, with the added benefit of being deer resistant. Inland Sea Oats provide food and cover for many birds, who eat the grain and use the foliage in their nests. It is a larval food plant for Skipper butterflies.


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