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Northern Sea Oats Against Global Warming

My own small action to contend against global warming this morning was dirty: I planted a tray of 32 small pots with seeds of northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium). Northern sea oats are a grass native to North America that grows between two and three feet tall, with flat sea heads that blow like half-tethered sails in the wind during the second half of the year.

Unlike turf grass, northern sea oats don’t need to be mowed down. The plants turn copper to brown, providing visual interest in the garden throughout the winter, and then in the spring, the previous year’s growth falls down to the ground to make way for new growth from the ground.

native grass planted in pots

It’s this kind of growth that makes planting a patch of northern sea oats a good part of a larger effort to slow down global warming. First of all, if the northern sea oats replace turf grass, less lawn mowing will have to be done, meaning that less gasoline will be burned, meaning that less carbon dioxide will go into the air. Also, the old grass that falls down year after year will only partially decompose, leaving a good deal of carbon in the soil and building up a rich thatch. Instead of being the location of the release of carbon dioxide into the air, the patch of northern sea oats will be a small carbon sink.

I got my northern sea oats seeds from Botanical Interests, which grows them using organic methods, certified by the Colorado Department of Agriculture. The seeds cost me just $2.39 cents – and I have about 20 seeds left over even after planting two per pot in the 32-pot tray this morning.

The seeds weighed just half a gram – a much smaller shipping weight than fully grown plants, in pots full of soil. Those fully grown plants would have cost me about 5 dollars a piece each, if I was lucky and found a reasonable garden center Plant Delights Nursery sells one pot of a rather unappealing variegated variety of northern sea oats for 15 dollars, and White Flower Farm sells the same plant for over 21 dollars. Georgia Vines sells a pot of the regular, more handsome, northern sea oats for ten dollars. Assuming the conservative 5 dollar price, though, if just 25 of the 32 pots I planted this morning grow successfully, I’ll have $125 worth of plants. Furthermore, once the northern sea oats get established, they should reproduce by seed, creating new plants for me that I can move around to create yet more new patches of the native grass.

It will take between 10 and 20 days for the seeds to germinate, and by then, it will almost be spring.

One thought on “Northern Sea Oats Against Global Warming”

  1. Katharine Smith says:

    I CT, we had one inundating tidal surge during the recent storm (Irene). We had many plant losses, but I expected the sea oats to ‘weather the storm’. They turned gray brown overnight, even after heavily sprinkling washed off the residue. Many of us on the CT shore (Long Island Sound) are wondering why we fared so much worse after Irene than after the salt water surges that brought more than one high tide in Oct and Dec roughly 15 years ago. Shouldn’t sea oats be PK?

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