There's grass... and then there are grasses!
You mow down the grass, but grasses get a whole different treatment.
You scowl and say, "Darn it! Look how long the grass is getting!" Then
smile benignly and say, "Look at those long, lush grasses!"
There's something very special about ornamental grasses than can make
a fan out of the most avid lawn-hating curmudgeon. For one thing, they
are relatively easy to grow (and hard to kill) and they can be quite
spectacular without requiring a lot of expertise on the part of the
Ornamental grasses can be grouped in several ways. One way is to
divide them into "Cool Season" and "Warm Season" grasses. If you plant
cool season grasses, you'll notice that they begin to grow quite early
in the spring and also seem to prefer cooler temperatures. When
rainfall is scarce or temperatures are high, cool season grasses need
more frequent watering. Some examples of cool season grasses: Blue Oat
grass, Tufted Hair grass and Fescues.
Warm season grasses don't show much growth until the air and the soil
warm up. Unlike their cool cousins, warm season grasses handle hot
weather and limited moisture quite well and can retain an attractive
appearance without a lot of watering on your part. Examples of warm
season grasses: Hardy Pampas Grass, Switch grass and Japanese Silver
I found an excellent web site full of easy-to-understand information
about ornamental grasses, hosted by the University of Illinois
Extension. The web address is http://www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/grasses /
and I have embedded a hot link directly from my web site to help you
find it. Just go to www.landsteward.org and find this column archived
under The Plant Man heading. Simply scroll down and click on the link.
(There's even a really neat 3 minute video about grasses that you can
The site reminds us of an important point: you need to understand the
growth habits of grasses before you plant them. Why? Because most
grasses are classified either as clump forming or rhizome forming, and
they have very different characteristics!
Clump forming grasses grow in neat mounds (clumps) and work well in
close proximity to perennials as they are not invasive. However,
rhizome grasses spread out their underground stems and can quickly
take over an entire area. That can be both desirable and attractive,
but you wouldn't want to plant rhizome forming grasses around your
prized perennials! If you're not sure which group a particular grass
falls into, ask someone knowledgeable at your garden center, or send
me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
When it comes to planting grasses, you can do so in either spring or
fall. If you decide on fall planting, in most climates, it's best to
plant in August or September, allowing the grasses to establish a
solid root system before winter.
Even if you plan on spring planting, conventional wisdom suggests
tilling the soil in the fall so the freeze/thaw cycle will improve
workability. You won't need a whole lot of fertilizer, but for about
100 square feet, dig in about one pound of all purpose (10-10-10)
fertilizer as you prepare the soil.
After you've planted your ornamental grasses, give them a good
watering, and maintain a moist soil environment until they're
established. If you decided on fall planting, cover your new grasses
lightly with hay or straw before the first frost. Again, if you have
specific planting or care questions, drop me an e-mail and I'll send
you a personal reply.
A word about weed control: I suggest you mulch around your ornamental
grasses as this will deter weed growth and make for easier
My personal preference is not to cut down my grasses when they become
dry and brittle in the winter, as I think they look very attractive
that way, particularly when I see them rising up above the snow. I
wait until the spring and trim back the foliage to about 6 inches
which encourages spring growth.
Here are some of my favorite ornamental grasses:
For a basic fescue (with a 'twist') I like Elija blue fescue (Festuca
ovina glauca). It really is the "bluest of the blues." As the summer
progresses, long, wheat-like stems sprout from the center of the blue
clump, adding a whole new dimension.
Pennisetum Little Bunny is what is known as a "super dwarf" fountain
grass and works well around perennials without overpowering them. It
looks good on rock gardens and is deer-resistant.
Variegated Japanese sedge (Carex morrowii) seems to grow in almost any
environment and is a well-behaved (non-spreading) grass. It has a
distinctive cream-colored stripe down the center of its long, leathery
green leaves. I think it looks very attractive as an accent near a
pond, as well as being a very useful groundcover.
Well, those are just three of my favorites. When you're planning your
landscape, be sure to include some ornamental grasses that you can
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and landscaping to email@example.com and for resources and
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