Posts Tagged ‘Grasses’

Fall is for Ornamental Grasses

Icon Written by Geoff on October 1, 2002 – 5:02 pm

Ornamental grasses can become an important addition to your garden. Grasses can add lasting beauty, an air of elegance and character to a yard. In the traditional landscape garden they can be interplanted with flowering perennials, particularly coneflowers and asters. Besides adding beauty to outdoor surroundings, plumes from ornamental grass can be dried for use in flower arrangements. 

They also can be used in the wildflower gardens or meadows, where they have the added benefit of attracting birds. We have found ornamental grasses not only provide shelter but food for the birds. In the Fall large flocks of migrating songbirds often descend on our grasses to feed. 

Other uses of ornamental grasses are: 

1. In containers
2. As background planting
3. Specimen planting
4. Use as a living screen
5. For groundcover 

Most of the grasses thrive in full direct sun, although a few tolerate shade. They mainly like a well-drained soil rich in organic matter. Therefore, we always work organic matter into the soil before planting. Remember too that grasses are deep rooted so really dig deep. Their root system makes moving or dividing extremely difficult. 

Grasses are very hardy, pest resistant plants that require no fertilization and very little watering. We do water them during their first growing season but it is more out of habit than a cultural requirement. Since grasses grow so densely, we have never had to worry about weeds. 

In early spring before new growth begins, remove the previous year’s foliage. Grasses will begin growing earlier if foliage is removed. We have found power hedgetrimmers work very well for this. In the Spring, if the center of the clump shows little or no growth, the plant should be divided if possible. Separate and replant the vigorous growth on the outer edge of the clump. 

Some popular grasses for the home garden are: 


Varieties we recommend are:

Andropogon glomeratus ‘Bushy Blue Stem’ 
This wonderful native with flattened blue-green foliage makes a very structural statement, reaching 6 feet tall, with only a 2-3 foot spread. In early fall the plumes emerge and with the first heavy frost, the plumes take on a billowing cloud-like appearance. 

Sporobolus airoides ‘Alkali Dropseed’
Alkali dropseed qualifies as one of the least-known of the native grasses. Tolerant of drought and alkaline soils, a single plant will quickly produce a 3 feet tall by 6 feet wide clump of grey-green foliage. In Mid-Summer it is topped with graceful tall golden bronze panicles. 

Panicum virgatum ‘Cloud Nine’
We are very fond of Panicums for two reasons, they are native grasses and they are quite beautiful. Cloud Nine tops out at 6-7 feet tall with airy panicles of gold against subtle blue foliage. We tucked this new native selection in the back of the sunny border to offer a vertical grassy form with airy fall panicles. 

Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’
This selection of our native panicum makes a small 3 foot tall clump. The foliage is dark purple on its tips throughout the summer, but when fall hits, nice airy plumes appear. 

Chasmanthium latifolium ‘Northern Sea Oats’
This is one of the few ornamental grasses that thrives in shady conditions. Northern Sea Oats has a short basal tuft of wide grassy leaves that produces 4 foot stalks with dramatic grain-like flowers. Northern Sea Oats grow best in a naturalistic garden, either in the border or by the water. 

Calamagrostis arundinacea ‘Karl Forester’
This grass is appreciated not only for its glossy, dark green leaves but also for its graceful flower spikes which appear reddish-green in early summer and change through the growing season to a creamy white. Highly prized for its ability to add subtle texture and color in the perennial border. 

Panicum virgatum ‘Prairie Sky’
This native switchgrass is prized for its powdery blue foliage. In late summer, billowing plumes of amber brown top the clump. 

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’
Morning Light has very narrow foliage with a subtle white stripe that causes this plant to shimmer and glow in the landscape. This choice ornamental grass of 4-5′ sets off any sunny area in the garden. If you need a plant to stop your eye, this grass will do it. Highlights all other plants in its company. 

Pennisetum orientale ‘Tall Tails’
This vigorous, heat-loving plant makes a border-sized upright arching clump to 4.5 feet tall. The early fall plumes of tan, with a hint of pink, tower another above the foliage. 

Panicum virgatum ‘Northwind’
The wide, olive-green foliage makes the strongest vertical accent of any of the switchgrasses. This vigorous grower is topped in September with attractive narrow plumes. 

Miscanthus giganteus ‘Giant Chinese Silver Grass’
This plant quickly grows to 12 feet by early summer. In early fall, plumes rise and add to the drama of this grass. The grassy leaves are long and gracefully sway with the slightest breeze. 

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Variegatus’
Perennial grass with white stripes on dark green leaves. Feathery flower plumes are an added feature. Excellent as a specimen or in the perennial border. 

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Yaku Jima’
Excellent ornamental discovered on the Japanese island of Yaku Jima. Compact, clumping grass with finely textured silver-striped green foliage. Silver plums appear in late summer and remain attractive into winter. 

Grasses are fun to play with in the garden. They add vertical texture like no other plant. Ornamental grasses really come into their own in the Fall and Winter with their beautiful plumage, all the while providing food and shelter for birds and other wildlife. In the Spring the dead foliage even provides nesting material. There are so many easy to grow varieties you really cannot go wrong.

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Grassland Gardening

Icon Written by Geoff on March 1, 1999 – 5:11 pm

We have been talking the last few months about taking the time during the slower winter months to plan our spring gardens. Our focus has been on annuals, perennial’s, seeds, and shrubs for the garden. This month we look at another green area, the vast wasteland we call “The Lawn.” 

Our views on grasslands are largely influenced by the European Formal Gardens with their vast panoramas of manicured lawns. We spend untold time and money on cultivating, planting, fertilizing, and maintaining these short grass lawns. We even mow our roadside’s and parklands short like our lawns. Much of what we do is driven not by necessity but, because of what we think we must do so to conform to our community standards of appearance and behavior. 

In our subdivision, every Saturday morning we each get out our mower and start cutting away. If one of us was to miss this ritual mowing, it would be assumed that we were sick and most likely the other neighbors would pitch in and get the job done. Many times, I must confess, we have cut our lawn when it really did not need it. This behavior is even stronger in the rural/suburban areas where vast amounts of acreage are mowed. Take a drive in the country sometime and look at the large lawns. 

Fortunately, this obsession with manicured lawns and short grasses is shifting. Tall grass lawns are becoming more and more acceptable. Mowing the roadsides also seems to be falling out of fashion. We see more of “The Lawn” being converted to tall grass prairies or wild flower gardens (see May 1997 Yard Talk) which has a positive effect on the natural environment. You will be amazed at the increased number of birds, butterflies, and animals you will see just by not mowing parts or all of your lawn. 

Tallgrass lawns such as these are referred to as Eurasian Lawns as they are made up of grass species native to the European Continent. While they do produce an abundance of wildlife, it is nothing like what can be found in our native prairie grasses or eastern meadows. 

Some of the advantages to the homeowner in reducing or eliminating mowing are:

  • Time saved in not having to mow.
  • Reduced noise and air pollution.
  • Money saved on equipment purchases or lawn service.
  • Increased plant and animal variety.
  • No need to use costly chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides.

Maybe the results will not be earthshaking but, just possibly, a few more birds and butterflies will find their way into your neighborhood. You can say, at least in some small way, you helped promote bio-diversity. After all, while those manicured lawns look neat and tidy they are also very sterile. Why not this season take the plunge, think different, and start your own Tallgrass Prairie?

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