The Complete Guide To Ornamental Grasses
Ornamental grasses are fantastic planting companions for shrubs and perennials, bringing another element of texture and motion to the landscape. They come in a fantastic range of sizes, from a foot or less in height to more than six feet. Don't let their graceful presence fool you, these are some of the most rugged, durable plants available.
Ornamental Grass Varieties
Pink Muhly is a medium sized native of southeastern North America that thrives in salt air, marginal soil and semi arid environments. Its smoky pink blooms highlight the end of summer.
Variegated Liriope is a low growing, evergreen grass whose yellow and green foliage is the perfect backdrop for its purple midsummer blooms.
Maiden Grass grows rather large gracefully accents shrubs or may be used as a foundation plant near the house. It's feathery blooms open in mid summer.
Blue Festuca really pops when planted in a mixed perennial border. It works equally well in a meadow garden or a rock garden.
Choosing The Right Ornamental Grass
Sizing is a good starting point for choosing ornamental grasses. Large growing maiden grass looks great planted individually to accent building architecture, or in clusters flanking the shrub border. Medium-sized pink muhly grass is well suited to planting in massive drifts, at the front of the shrub border or behind perennials. Because variegated liriope is both small and evergreen, it lends itself perfectly to defining landscape bed edges, or for use as a groundcover in difficult areas where it's purple-blue flowers have given rise to the nickname "lillyturf." Use blue festuca to accent low growing perennials or soften the look of hardscape edges in sunny areas.
How To Plant Ornamental Grasses
If the ornamental grass is to be planted individually, or even two to three together, simply dig the hole(s) two to three times the width of the container the grass comes in and about a half inch shallower than the height of the root ball. Tease out the roots of the grass, place it in the center of the hole and backfill with a mixture of native soil and organic planting soil.
When planting large masses or long borders of ornamental grasses, prepare the entire bed or border by killing off existing vegetation and incorporating soil amendments like compost or organic soil conditioner throughout the area. This will allow the fibrous roots of the grasses to expand into the bed more quickly than if holes were prepared individually. When the bed has been prepared, planting into the soft soil is quick work: dig the hole just large enough for the root ball to fit, tease out the roots, place the plant into its new home and firm it in.
How To Care For Ornamental Grasses
Ornamental grasses are low maintenance, easy care plants. Keep the soil consistently moist during the first growing season to establish a deep root system. Once established, ornamental grasses only require irrigation during long dry spells. To maintain a clean, fresh look, cut the grass to the ground annually after it goes dormant but before new growth begins in spring. The decision of when to prune ornamental grass is up to your discretion: if you like the structure provided by the brown foliage and seedheads, leave it until the end of winter; or if you prefer a tightly manicured look you may cut it back as soon as it turns brown in the fall.
Like other perennials, ornamental grasses may be divided after 5 years or so. Simply dig up the plant and use a sharp knife to cut through the root mass, dividing it into two or more smaller clumps. These divisions may be used to increase plantings in your own landscape or shared with friends.
Because of its high biomass yield in difficult conditions, maiden grass is considered a great renewable energy crop for use in biofuel production.
In forest management programs, muhly grass is desirable to fuel controlled burns that are used to reduce understory competition.
The roots of variegated liriope, which often feature fleshy tubers near the tips, are edible and have been used in traditional chinese medicine.
Blue fescue, with its diminutive size and hardy nature, has gained popularity among "no mow" lawn enthusiasts.