Grasses, Ornamental

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. Ornamental grasses are a mainstay of See more pictures of perennials.

The foliage and seed heads of showy ornamental grasses help to extend the perennial's garden season through winter. The stems, or culms, of true grasses are round and hollow, and stem sections are joined by solid nodes. Roots grow deep into the ground, making the plants drought tolerant. They are used to competition in fields and meadows. Flowers are usually feathery or plumelike and feature an awn, or a barbed appendage, that is often quite long. Moving in the wind, grasses add vitality to the garden scene.

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How to grow: Most grasses prefer well-drained soil in full sun. There are exceptions; some tolerate wet soil, and some accept shade. The only chore connected with growing perennial grasses is the annual pruning of the dead stems and leaves before new growth begins to emerge.

Propagation: By division in spring.

Uses: Large types make beautiful specimen plants and screens. Some lower-growing varieties make excellent ground covers. Adding interest to the perennial border, the fine textures of grasses help to blend and unify contrasting plantings. Grasses blend nicely with foundation plantings.

Related species: Some of the most popular species of grass are listed here. Calamagrostis acutiflora stricta, or feather reed grass, reaches five to seven feet and tolerates wet soils. Reed grass blooms late in spring, showing its seed heads through the following winter. Helictrotrichon sempervirens, or blue oat grass, is valuable for its blue color and the form of the leaves. It grows to two feet. With its red leaves, Imperata cylindrica rubra, or Japanese blood grass, makes a fine ground cover. Miscanthus sinensis Gracillimus, or maiden grass, forms a fountain of thin, arching leaves. In the fall, tall seed heads are formed that open into plumes persisting well into winter. Miscanthus Zebrinus, or zebra grass, looks like a tropical plant that has adapted to the North. Reaching a height of eight feet, the arching leaves are dashed with horizontal bands of a light and creamy golden-brown that only appears as the summer heats up. Massive clumps are formed over the years. Other varieties of Miscanthus develop into bold specimens with graceful winter plumage. Pennisetum alopecuroides, or fountain grass, produces leafy fountains about three feet high and blossoms on arching stalks. Pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana, Zones 7 to 10) grows in the South with showy white or pink plumes on 6- to 12-foot stems. There is also a dwarf type of pampas grass only a few feet tall.

Scientific name: Gramineae family

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