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Ornamental Grass Basics

 

Ornamental grasses can be just as beautiful as flowering plants - plus they're easy to care for and grow quickly

Ornamental grasses are any species that are not used for turf, but are planted to add interest and depth to the landscape. They encompass several varieties such as bamboo and sedgegrass and range in heights and colors.

There are many advantages to using ornamental grasses in the landscape. They're very tolerant of adverse soil and climate conditions. They grow quickly with little care and many will overwinter without any fuss. In fact, they're an asset to some of winter's wasteland. Even better, the dried leaves and stems are useful as indoor decor. Tie them in bundles to create a spectacular homemade wreath.

While growing ornamentals is easy and generally carefree, they will perform better if selected for their hardiness in your region. There are species that do well in every type of climate, so it should be easy to locate the perfect grasses at your local garden center.

Most grasses prefer full sun - about five hours each day - and only a few will survive in shaded areas. They prefer well-draining, organic soil and may not develop healthy roots in tightly-compacted soils.

Ornamental Grass Types

When choosing a grass, you'll want to consider whether it is clump-forming or rhizomatous. The former will only develop roots in the immediate area and these plants can be easily divided. The latter creates an invasive root system that can spread more than twelve feet away from the plant itself. These may be a solution where erosion control is needed, but a nuisance around other plants.

You'll also have the choice of warm-season or cool-season grasses. Warm-season grasses grow fastest when temperatures are above 75 degrees. Cool-season species typically come out in early spring, slow their growth in the heat of summer, and then continue growing in the cool fall months.

Ornamental Grass Varieties

What most of us think of as pampas grass may not be related at all. This particular ornamental - Cortaderia selloana - does not thrive in colder climates, so be cautious when purchasing what may be labeled as simply pampas.

Here are a few favorites:

Maiden Grass (Miscanthus sinensis)
Reaches heights of 8 feet and widths of 4 feet. Green blades turn to gold in winter and delivers beautiful white plumes. Full sun, but can thrive in wetter conditions.

Fountain Grass/Hameln (Pennisetum alopecuroides)
Shorter grass - about 3 feet tall. Wheat-colored plumes reach above the blades. Full sun.

Purple Fountain Grass/Rubrum (Pennisetum setaceum)
Beautiful shade of purple with rosy spiking flowers. Grows about 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide. Full sun. In some regions it is treated as an annual.

Feather Reed Grass/Karl Forester (Deschampsia cespitosa)
A very popular species that is a nice clumper as well.

Finally, a short list of rhizomatous varieties: Ribbongrass (Phalaris), Blue Lymegrass, and Silver Banner Grass.

One word of caution about dry winter grasses. They can catch fire and aid in the spread of flames. If you have planted them near a home, consider cutting them back in the fall.

 

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