Make room for ornamental grasses

Colorful and quick-growing grasses add style to landscapes.

Photo courtesy of Family Features
Pampas grass, native to South America, is a thick, fluffy ornamental grass with an exotic appeal.

Ornamental grasses add grace and motion to the garden with straplike foliage that sways in the gentlest breeze. The fluffy flowers and seed heads on many varieties last throughout the winter, attracting birds and adding winter interest to the garden. There are many types of ornamental grasses annual and perennial with different textures, sizes, colors and flower forms. Foliage and flower colors include red, pink, purple, tan and white, in addition to all hues of green.

Annual grasses are striking in containers and along walkways and patios. The purple foliage of annual purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum') draws the eye; the golden plumes of Mexican feather grass (Stipa tenuissima) soften hard surfaces and glow in the sun. Some varieties of Carex are grown for their unusual tan foliage that some liken to the color of coffee and chocolate. These are typically considered annuals although they are perennial in warm climates.

Perennial grasses make lovely ground covers, living screens and focal points. Popular types of Miscanthus, Pennisetum and Panicum add drama with their tall fountains of foliage and flower plumes. The foliage of many perennial grasses stands throughout the winter, glistening in the frost and snow, and providing cover for winter birds. Most types bloom in midsummer and their dried seed heads often remain on plants all winter.

Planting Instructions
Most grasses prefer full sun to light shade and well-drained soil. Plant in spring, spacing plants one to three feet apart, depending on the variety. Prepare the garden bed by using a garden fork or tiller to loosen the soil to a depth of 12 to 15 inches, then mix in a two- to four-inch layer of compost. Dig a hole twice the diameter of the pot the plant is growing in. Carefully remove the plant from its container and place it in the hole so the top of the root ball is level with the soil surface. Carefully fill in around the root ball and firm the soil gently. Water thoroughly.

Long-Term Care
Apply a thin layer of compost each spring, followed by a two-inch layer of mulch to retain moisture and control weeds. Water plants during the summer if rainfall is less than one inch per week. Cut back the plant in late winter before new growth begins. Some species need dividing every three to four years to keep the plants vigorous.

For more tips and garden information visit See also the Monitor's garden site.

A former floral designer and interior plantscaper, Kathie Bond-Borie has spent 20 years as a garden writer/editor, including her current role as horticultural editor for the National Gardening Association. She loves designing with plants, and spends more time playing in the garden – planting and trying new combinations – than sitting and appreciating it.

– Courtesy of Family Features

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