Ornamental grasses create a dynamic space filled with movement and sound in any home landscape or garden. Captivate your garden visitors while establishing a low-maintenance, tough and dependable plant. Ornamental grasses enhance the architecture of an outdoor space and grow into a living screen or fence for an added sense of privacy. A once motionless foundation will transform into an attention grabbing and welcoming space with an added layer of beauty. You will achieve an airy structure impossible with any other shrub, plus the added curb appeal.
Grasses are classified as either warm season or cool season, depending on when they start to grow. Cool season grasses start to grow in early spring when temperatures are mild. They do best when watered during dry periods and may go dormant, or develop brown foliage, during excess heat or drought. They should be cut back in late winter or early spring, leaving a few inches of foliage above the ground. Examples of cool season grasses are blue fescue, feather reed grass or autumn moor grass.
Warm season grasses do not begin to grow until the soil warms up in late spring. They are drought and heat tolerant once established. Many warm season grasses will have gorgeous brown or burgundy fall color lasting into the winter. Cut these grasses back to 4-6 inches above the ground in the spring before new foliage develops. Examples of warm season grasses for the landscape are switch grass, little bluestem, fountain grass, hakone grass, Northern Sea oats or Japanese silver grass.
Ornamental grasses can develop two different growth habits depending on the grass, either clump forming or rhizome forming. As the name suggests, the clump forming grasses will grow in orderly clumps or mounds. Rhizome forming grasses are typically not enjoyed in the landscape because they can become aggressive and invasive. They reproduce through underground stems which can develop quickly and are difficult to control. Use caution when planting these types of grasses or avoid them entirely. Examples include blue lyme grass, cordgrass and reed canary grass.
Caring for ornamental grass is simple. Supplemental fertilization is not necessary, but they can benefit from a slow-release fertilizer application in the spring as the new foliage starts to grow. Ornamental grasses should be divided every few years to keep the plants actively growing and healthy. Plants that do not get divided regularly will die-out in the center, creating a donut-shaped plant. Divide plants in the early spring before new growth begins and plant divisions in new garden beds.
Ornamental grasses add movement to a rigid landscape. The tall stems and blades, and airy seed heads create a wave of foliage in the wind. These grasses can vary widely in height, color, texture, structure and seed head shape. With four seasons of interest, they are a must for any landscape. Whether edging along a path, designing a focal plant in the landscape, or growing a row of plants for a screen, ornamental grasses can be a valuable addition to gardens.