In the landscape, ornamental grasses are often seen in motion, shimmering and swaying in the breeze with faint whispering rustling sounds. As they catch the early morning or late afternoon light, their graceful forms create spectacular silhouettes.
They wear many different colours; blue, green, silver, red, burgundy, pink, black—as well as spots and streaks of white, yellow and gold. As the season progresses, they may change from spring green to bright summer red, fall yellow, and, finally, wintertime shades of beige.
Grasses vary from low-growing, groundcovers to tall 20 foot reed grasses. Some grow upright; others are mounded or arching. They can be used in a myriad of ways for landscape design; as groundcovers and edgings; as tall, bold specimens; in containers and tubs; in mass plantings; or to soften hard edges of retaining walls and driveways.
Ornamental grasses are fairly inexpensive and easily maintained, needing very little attention except cutting back in spring. Insects and diseases don’t bother most of them and they require little fertilizer (but benefit from a top-dressing of compost every few years). Most are reasonably drought and heat tolerant and usually easy to divide.
Ornamental grasses can provide you with a spot of trouble. A few years ago, I made the mistake of planting Fountain grass (pennisetum) and a bronze Sedge grass (carex) only to spend the better part of the next two years removing all their babies as they self-seeded throughout the back garden. So, it’s a good idea to research the type of ornamental grass that interests you to make sure it’s not an invasive variety.
As popularity increases, nurseries have offered a wider selection of grasses for both part-shade and full sun. I’ve tried a good number and narrowed my favourites to three choices: Karl Forester Feather Reed grass (calamagrostis), variegated Japanese Mountain grass(hakonechloa aureum) and Blue Oat grass (helictotrichon). All these have performed beautifully in our climate.
I may soon add to the ‘favourite’ list once I’ve tried some of the Miscanthus grasses recently discussed on the TV show, Victory Garden. A grass expert peaked my interest with his list of favourites, especially Malepartus Maiden grass (miscanthus sinensis ‘Malepartus’). Hardy to Zone 4, Malepartus is a vigorous rounded clump of broad, rich-green blades with white-striped midribs. Once established, it grows 6 feet tall x 5 feet wide and sports large soft-pink plumes that turn coppery-purple and then a lighter silver-white. And, like it’s cousin, Flame grass (miscanthus sinensis ‘purpurascens’- 3 feet tall), Maiden grasses turn spectacular autumn colours in fall.
A couple of other dwarf specimens suggested as great performers are Morning Light grass (miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’) with white narrow blades and Little Zebra grass (miscanthus sinensis ‘Little Zebra’) with white spotted stripes. Both are hardy to zone 4 and only grow to about 3 feet x 3 feet.
Patty Siddall and Betty Drover operate a local garden business.Contact Siddall Drover Garden Services at 250-364-1005