If you thumb through a horticultural catalog these days or visit the local garden center, you’ll continue to see new varities as well as established introductions of ornamental grasses.
Japanese blood, pampas grass, festuca, zebra grass, liriope - the list goes on. The trend toward landscaping with grasses was slow to catch on in the states, but is now in full throttle. Environmentally, grasses just make good sense in the landscape. Low maintenance, not grazed on much by deer, trought tolerant once established, lessen the need for mowing and also increased interest in their ability, in abundance, to sequester and store carbon.
The category “ornamental grass” also includes rushes and sedges. They are meant to be used more like shrubs. They function as summer hedges, ground covers, special accents in the landscape and can be used in flower borders. Grasses compliment landscape around pools as well. Some grasses grow inches tall; others, to twelve feet. Grasses are known as spreaders or clumpers. Spreaders, through the use of horizontal runners, can fill in areas of bare spot in the lawn or bed rather quickly. Clumpers are much slower to spread out by comparison.
Ornamental grasses require little maintenance. Most will grow in the poorest of soils but will need adequate drainage. New plantings need to be faithfully watered the first year until they become established. The majority of grasses do best in full sun. Plants purchased in the pot need to be set into the ground at the same depth they were growing in the container. Bareroot plants should be put into the ground with the “crown” well above the ground, as you would with strawberry plants.
Grasses are grown for their color, which can be solid or patterned. You have the added bonus of beautiful plumes, green or dried, that can be brought indoors and used in arrangements. (My favorite are those of Northern sea oats.) Old and dried up growth on grasses can also be left for winter interest and in some cases, feeding of wildlife.
Do not wait too late to cut old growth down to a few inches of the crown otherwise you might be cutting out the coming season’s emerging new growth as well. A good sharp shears or a trimmer will do the job.
After several years in the ground, established grasses need to be divided otherwise they get too thick and fall over. Lift the clump from the ground and use an ax to cut through the clump. Replant what you want. Share the rest with others and get them involved in the joy of growing ornamental grasses.