One of the beautiful features of ornamental grasses is that they are truly ‘plants for all seasons’ and will supply interest, movement and texture in your garden throughout the year. Some types shoot straight out of the ground in early spring, while others hold back and show their true colours in summer. Fall is the time to enjoy the flowers and drying seed heads, and then in winter the grass blades generally become straw-coloured, but still look attractive under ice and snow.
There is incredible variety among ornamental grasses — from the fine leaves of delicate-looking alpine tufts to the six- to eight-foot feathery heights of eulalie grass (Miscanthus spp.). There are species that prefer sun: blue oat grass (Helictrotrichon sempervirens) and silver feather grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Silver Feather’). Grasses that adapt well to wet sites are manna grass (Glyceria maxima ‘Variegata’) and zebra grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus strictus’). And there are even grasses for shady areas, such as northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium).
Grasses require little attention. Most grow in a wide range of soil conditions — in fact invasive types such as blue lyme grass (Elymus arenarius glaucus), manna grass and gardener’s garters (Phalaris arundinaceae) actually behave better if planted in uncultivated soil or heavy clay.
Most ornamental grasses are disease- and pest-free, and being perennials, only require that dead foliage be cut down to a few inches above ground early in spring. If grass begins to look ratty or unattractive any time during the season, simply cut it back, and fresh growth will rejuvenate the clump immediately.
When selecting grasses, consider height, form, foliage colour and season of flower. There are tall majestic grasses that can be used as screens or backgrounds for borders, and dwarf forms of grass that make attractive edging material for beds.
There is a kaleidoscope of colour available in the grass family. Don’t just think green — think steel blue, think ruby red, think cinnamon brown, think copper and tan, even think zebra stripes!
Even the seed heads of ornamental grasses will give you a different effect in your garden. Some are delicate like puffs of smoke, while others have heavy nodding pods that undulate beautifully in the wind.
And, speaking of wind, once ornamental grasses are established in your garden, you soon realize that they are seen at their best in the current of a gentle breeze. Unlike any other group of plants, these lovely long-stemmed beauties will add a fluid dimension to the landscape that it unrivalled.
This information is provided by Landscape Ontario Horticultural Trades Association