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Purple needle grass is the state grass of California. It is a distinctive clumping grass with fine textured foliage growing 18-24 in. tall with upright inflorescences growing to 3 ft. tall. Nodding seed awns move gracefully in the wind and have a distinctive purple color in early spring before fading to a light wheat color.

Over the years, several preserves and restoration projects have been implemented across California in an effort to reestablish this grass and illustrate its habitat value. It can be successfully grown in both large and small scale plantings and can survive in natural areas with winter rainfall. Like other native needle grasses, summer watering is not recommended during its season of dormancy. It is grown in garden situations with other native grasses, wildflowers and perennials where it adds a delicate and elegant touch to the plantings.

Water Needs

Purple needle grass easily adapts to sunny garden locations and normal winter rains. Established plants require no summer water; younger plants establish best with periodic summer irrigation. The chart shown below provides a recommended baseline guide to the monthly irrigation schedule and volume of supplemental water needed to maintain healthy growth throughout the average year. It should be noted there are several months indicated by an asterisk (*) when winter rains can provide sufficient moisture and irrigation is not needed.

Irrigation Schedule and Graph

Low Water Use Plants

Irrigation Schedule 1

  Jan* Feb* Mar* Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov* Dec*
Runs per Month 0x to 2x 0x to 2x 0x to 2x 1x 1x 1x 1x 1x 1x 1x 0x to 2x 0x to 2x
Inches per Run 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1"
Inches per Month 0" to 2" 0" to 2" 0" to 2" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 0" to 2" 0" to 2"

Range of supplemental summer water: 7"
Range of supplemental winter water: 0"-10"

  Jan* Feb* Mar* Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov* Dec*
For more information on how to use this Irrigation Schedule and Graph, follow this link.

For information how to calculate your irrigation system’s schedule and precipitation rate, please follow this link.

Plant Properties

Plant Type: Grass, Native
Foliage Character: Drought deciduous
Habit: Upright, Graceful, Delicate, Clumping
Growth Rate: Fast
Height: 18 in. - 24 in.
Width: 18 in. - 30 in.
Water Needs: Low 1
Foliage Color: Light green
Flower Color: Purple, Tan
Flower Season: Summer, Spring
Soil Adaptations: Well-draining soil, Clay
Exposure Adaptations: Drought, All day sun
Function: Wildlife value, Restoration, Mass planting, Flowering accent plant, Container plant, Attracts butterflies, Small spaces


This small bunch grass is best used in naturalistic gardens where it can be allowed to go summer dormant, with very little summer water, as it is adapted to do in habitat. It will stay greener, but can be short lived with more summer water (S). In most landscapes this is not a good choice for the main plant in a large meadow because it does not compete well with weeds. In casually cultivated landscapes is often more successful in small groups planted about 3' apart, intermixed or nearby wildflowers and perennials (6).

If desired, cut back in late summer or early fall before cool season growth. Seed heads have a barb and can get caught in pets fur, ears, or even end up under skin. This can be avoided by cutting back plants early before seeds dry (S).



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