With so many different types of ornamental grasses there is a grass suitable for every gardening situation. Gorgeous in summer and fall, landscape grasses really earn their accolades in the winter. Once the snow has fallen there is no looking back.
For northern gardeners nothing beats decorative grass for winter interest. When the arching plumes are first dusted with frost and later brushed with snow, your garden turns into a winter wonderland. Tall and strong many ornamental grasses can withstand the worst that winter has to offer, including mounds of snow and chilly winds.
Like anything else, some grasses handle winter better than others. As well, to enjoy their effects you must not prune them down in the fall when cleaning up other parts of your garden. Some grasses will not survive the fall winds graciously and they can be cut during fall clean up. Others will stand tall and strong right through to spring.
All of the Miscanthus grasses last for a very long time. They are tall and strong, able to buffet strong winter winds. Some of the more popular Miscanthus you will find available at nurseries are Miscanthus Silver Grass, Miscanthus Maiden Grass, Miscanthus Silver Feather Grass, Miscanthus Flame Grass and Miscantahus Eulalia Grass. These all grow to over 5 feet tall, love full sun and are easy to grow. The hardiest is Eulalia which is a zone 4 ornamental grass.
Another group of grasses that are effective in the winter garden are Calamagrostis. These grasses have thinner blades than most others but manage to stand straight up rather than curving. If stems are broken by winds or snow, they settle at odd angles and create winter sculptures. The most favored are Calamagrostis Korean Feather Reed Grass and Calamagrostis Karl Foerster. Calamagrostis Bush Grass is hardy to zone 4 but can be somewhat weedy in sandy soils.
Spartina Prairie Cordgrass is hardy to zone 4 and can endure very harsh winter conditions for a long time. Since it is native to wet prairies it does enjoy sufficient moisture and can grow in both sun and light shade.
Panicum Switch Grass is a shorter grass forming narrow, upright clumps of foliage, and flowers that last into winter. It is very tolerant of winds and grows well in most soils.
Oryzopsis Indian Rice Grass is even hardy to zone 3. Shorter at 2 feet it grows best in sandy soils and is very drought tolerant. You might have to check out a specialty ornamental grass nursery for this one. Zone 3 ornamental grasses are not always easy to find.
A few well placed winter grasses will do more for your winter garden than just about anything else. If you haven’t already tried them, plan to put in a couple first thing in the spring, you won’t be sorry you did.