Of all the different plants I grow in our rather inhospitable garden, I get the best bang for my buck from the ornamental grasses. Once planted, they go from season to season, year after year requiring almost nothing from me.
Once planted they develop into gorgeous clumps within a couple of years and continue to mature and improve with time. It is not until around 6-8 years that they show signs of aging by centering out in the middle. When this happens it does take a heavy boot to dig them up, recapture a healthy part from the edge and start the process all over again.
Easy as Pie to Grow
There are grasses suitable to all different types of gardening conditions, and most require little or no care. A simple cut down once a year is all that is needed. I always do this in the early spring as grasses help to keep the garden looking great even through the cold and snowy winter months. I’ve never found any benefit from fertilizing them and have never been bothered with pests or disease. An extra but important bonus for me is that the deer leave them alone.
I honestly don’t know what more you could ask from a plant. If they have one drawback it would be that many of the cultivars are not hardy to zone 4 and down. Northern gardeners can still enjoy grasses but their selection of choices is reduced. You might find it odd that I refer to the grasses plumes as flowers, but that is what they are. From the decorative flowers they will produce their seeds.
Some of My Favourites in a zone 5 Garden:
MISCANTHUS sinensis ‘Gracillimus’ ( MAIDEN GRASS )
This is a large grass with narrow foliage and beautiful plumed flower heads starting in fall and lasting all winter. Reaching up to 7 feet tall it is excellent as a specimen plant or used as a hedge. Likes the full sun and a fertile well draining soil.
MISCANTHUS sinensis ‘Purpurescens’ ( Purple Maiden Grass )
An early flowering grass with upright clumps of wide leaves. By late summer the leaves have turned to bright red-0range and purple. About 2 feet above the foliage white flowers develop in the fall. Used as a specimen or hedge this grass is spectacular when it changes colours.
You don’t see this one as often, but it is not fussy about soil and is very drought tolerant. Turns into several shades of bronze in the fall and remains shorter at about 3 to 4 feet.
CALAMAGROSTIS arundinacea ‘Karl Foerster’
This is an erect, clump forming grass to about 4 feet. It develops reddish bronze flowers in summer. Will tolerate light shade and the flowers are good to use in either fresh or dried arrangements.
CALAMAGROSTIS acutiflora ‘Overdam’
This easy grass has foliage which begins with yellow margins that then fade to white with a pink tint. It blooms in the summer and grows well in full sun and well drained soil.
CAREX tumulicola ( Foothill Sedge )
This smaller grass is clump forming with dark green evergreen leaves. Prefers sun to part shade and once established can be quite drought tolerant. Good as a ground cover or even under trees. Grows to about 15 inches tall and wide with attractive flowers in the early spring.
PANICUM virgatum ( Switch Grass )
This is an erect clump forming grass with 2-4 foot tall stems and loose panicles of reddish flowers. Turns a beautiful orange-gold in autumn with flowers lasting well through the winter.
Helictotrichon sempervirens ( Blue Oat Grass )
This easy grass forms clumps of bright blue evergreen leaves. Oat-like , light blue flowers bloom in late spring and fade to yellowish tan as the seeds mature. About 3 feet tall it is excellent for the perennial border or even a large rock garden. Very drought tolerantbut does not like clay soils.
PENNISETUM setaceum ( Crimson Fountain Grass )
This grass has gorgeous arching flowering shoots that develop long clusters of pinkish flowers. Great when used in a mass planting or as a hedge. Full sun and well drained soil. This one is not hardy to my zone 5 garden but I grow it as an annual.
Even in winter ornamental grasses can help to hold the winter garden together. Covered in frost or snow they are still attractive. Many of the seed heads are also a source of winter food for the birds that hang out in your garden all year.
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