There’s grass... and then there are grasses!
You mow down the grass, but grasses get a whole different treatment.
scowl and say, “Darn it! Look how long the grass is getting!” Then
benignly and say, “Look at those long, lush grasses!”
There’s something very special about ornamental grasses than can make
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
without requiring a lot of expertise on the part of the homeowner.
Ornamental grasses can be grouped in several ways. One way is to
into “Cool Season” and “Warm Season” grasses.
If you plant cool season grasses, you’ll notice that they begin to
quite early in the spring and also seem to prefer cooler temperatures.
rainfall is scarce or temperatures are high, cool season grasses need
frequent watering. Some examples of cool season grasses: Blue Oat
Tufted Hair grass and Fescues.
Warm season grasses don’t show much growth until the air and the soil
up. Unlike their cool cousins, warm season grasses handle hot weather
limited moisture quite well and can retain an attractive appearance
a lot of watering on your part. Examples of warm season grasses:
Pampas Grass, Switch grass and Japanese Silver Grass.
I found an excellent web site full of easy-to-understand information
ornamental grasses, hosted by the University of Illinois Extension.
address is http://www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/grasses/ and I have embedded a
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
neat 3 minute video about grasses that you can view!)
The site reminds us of an important point: you need to understand the
habits of grasses before you plant them. Why? Because most grasses
classified either as clump forming or rhizome forming, and they have
Clump forming grasses grow in neat mounds (clumps) and work well in
proximity to perennials as they are not invasive. However, rhizome
spread out their underground stems and can quickly take over an entire
That can be both desirable and attractive, but you wouldn’t want to
rhizome forming grasses around your prized perennials! If you’re not
which group a particular grass falls into, ask someone knowledgeable
garden center, or send me an e-mail at email@example.com
When it comes to planting grasses, you can do so in either spring or
If you decide on fall planting, in most climates, it’s best to plant
August or September, allowing the grasses to establish a solid root
Even if you plan on spring planting, conventional wisdom suggests
the soil in the fall so the freeze/thaw cycle will improve
won’t need a whole lot of fertilizer, but for about 100 square feet,
about one pound of all purpose (10-10-10) fertilizer as you prepare
After you’ve planted your ornamental grasses, give them a good
maintain a moist soil environment until they’re established. If you
on fall planting, cover your new grasses lightly with hay or straw
the first frost. Again, if you have specific planting or care
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
and brittle in the winter, as I think they look very attractive that
particularly when I see them rising up above the snow. I wait until
spring and trim back the foliage to about 6 inches which encourages
Here are some of my favorite ornamental grasses:
For a basic fescue (with a ‘twist’) I like Elija blue fescue (Festuca
glauca). It really is the “bluest of the blues.” As the summer
long, wheat-like stems sprout from the center of the blue clump,
whole new dimension.
Pennisetum Little Bunny is what is known as a “super dwarf” fountain
and works well around perennials without overpowering them. It looks
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
leaves. I think it looks very attractive as an accent near a pond, as
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
The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs
landscaping to firstname.lastname@example.org and for resources and additional
information, including archived columns, visit www.landsteward.org