Ornamental Grasses

Mention “grass” to today’s gardener and far more than the traditional lawn needing to be fertilized and weeded and mowed comes to mind. Both ornamental and native prairie grasses are being incorporated into the landscape to compliment traditional flowers, add drama, and liven up the winter yard.

Ornamental grasses are bold accents, providing year-round color, texture and shape. For landscape use, choose the perennial, clump-forming, (“bunch”) grasses. Most do best in full sun and when started from rootstock, rather than from seed which cross-pollinates. Add sand and compost to clay soil before planting and water every other day after transplanting. Ornamental transplants will take 2-3 years to reach maturity and require only a close spring haircut (be careful to avoid cutting into the crown) and small amounts of water during drought conditions.

For our Zone 5 gardens, consider Blue Fescue (Festuca), a small, spiky blue grass, the 2 – 4 foot Fountain Grass (Pennisetum) which has soft, fuzzy late summer flowers, or a Miscanthus such as Eulalia or Zebra Grass, which is vigorous and upright, growing from 3 to 9 feet depending on the variety, with flat leaf blades and showy seed heads.

Native grasses once dominated the North American Prairie. Today, along with their wildflower companions, they are being reintroduced for their appearance, ease of care and as a visual link to nature and our past. Five native perennial bunch grasses which are especially worthy of a place in the landscape are Big Bluestem, Little Bluestem, Indiangrass, Switchgrass and Prairie Dropseed. All flower in August-September, take full sun and grow under a wide variety of soil and moisture conditions. Consider, too, Sideoats Grama for its bright purple and orange flower parts and Prairie Cordgrass for pond edges, streams and other wet conditions.

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