17 July 2009

Ornamental Grasses Tall and Short

Ornamental grasses are popular in large commercial settings such as airports and hospitals. They are equally at home in large pots, small ponds and garden beds.

The variety of grasses range from ones that can be used as a lawn substitute to those that grow 8 feet tall and remain standing throughout the cold months adding winter interest to your landscape.

Many of the plants we call ornamental grasses are actually Cyperaceae or sedge family and Juncaceae or rush family. Mondo grass is Ophiopogon and Liriope is lilyturf. True grasses are in the plant family Gramineae.

Annual, biennial and perennial ornamental grasses grow easily in average soil. Many can be grown from seed and most are insect and disease free. Popular annual grasses include big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), switch grass (Panicum virgatum), and Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans).

Perennial grasses can take a couple of years to become established so plan to put annuals in the planting spot that first year to fill in.

For this year's garden take a look a the High Country Gardens site here.

Here are a few to choose from for next year's garden.

Andropogon gerardii, Blue stem, Turkey grass, Beardgrass - There are 200 Andropogons. They have red-purple to silver-blue flower stems and fluffy blooms. They are easy to grow from seed and make durable screens and fillers for large beds.

Bluestem is the tallest at 7 feet with blue-green leaves that turn copper in autumn. Good for wildlife. Hardy to zone 3

Buchloe dactyloides, Buffalo grass, is drought tolerant, grows 6 inches tall with blue-green leaves. Zone 4 hardy.

Carex – there are 2,000 sedges to choose from.

Carex muskingumensis is a native grass that is hardy in zones 4 to 9. It is a creeping sedge with palm-like fronds. Use as a groundcover in moist, dappled shade or as a tall lawn substitute under trees. Grow from seed.

Carex pseudocyperus or Cyperus sedge dies back in the winter but emerges in the spring with yellow-green leaves. Good for water gardens in half shade. Grow from seed or division.

Carex texensis or Texas sedge is a low, clumping plant that grows to 4 inches tall. Can be used as a sturdy lawn for shade or sun and can be planted between stepping-stones. Can take lots of foot traffic. Used as a lawn it is mowed twice a year (http://xrl.us/be24tj). Plant from seeds or plugs.
Cyperus or papyrus - Cyperus alternifolius is a tall umbrella palm for water gardens. For a shorter version choose Cyperus alternifolius Gracilis.

A new Papyrus Cyperus percamenthus, King Tut, will be available next year from Proven Winners (http://tinyurl.com/nbpj3x).

Melinus nerviglumis - Pink Crystals ruby grass grows 1-foot tall with pink spring-summer blooms. Hardy to 20 degrees.

Miscanthus senesis or Japanese silver grass has great fall color. Use as a tall background, hedge or screen. Needs moist soil.

Muhlenbergia capillaries - Pink muhly or Pink hair grass, 3 feet tall with billows of pink fluffy flowers. Hardy to zone 6. Panicum or switch grass likes moist soil and dappled shade. P Heavy Metal grows to 5 feet with blue foliage and red tips.

Pennisetum glaucum – Purple Majesty millet, 4-feet tall, purple leaves and stems.

Pennisetum messiacum - Red Bunny Tails, 20-inches tall, pink flowers. Hardy to 0.

Pennisetum setaceum, Red Fountain, Rubrum and Burgundy Giant are grown as 3-foot tall annuals with burgundy leaves and plumes.

Saccharum Arundinaceum - Hardy sugar cane or Plume Grass is 6 feet tall with pink flowers in sun.

Stipa tenuissima - Mexican Feather Grass is a drought tolerant native grass for sunny rock gardens.

Resources: Encyclopedia of Ornamental Grasses by John Greenlee (1992, $10 used online), Fine Gardening’s database of ornamental grasses http://cli.gs/Bqus0X and Dave Brigante on papyrus at http://is.gd/1wwJv.

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