Fountains of Ornamental Grasses; Companions for Perennials
April 4, 2009
Allan in Ornamental grasses, ornamental grasses, perennials

Ornamental grass Pennisetum "Karley Rose" from gilberthwild.com. Click on the image to visit their site.Create a lush tropical feeling in the garden by planting ornamental grasses behind, among and in front of perennials. In early summer, slender grasses grow like fountain sprays, adding movement, texture, shimmer and vertical interest. By summers end, most will have developed elegant plumes in shades of white, silver, gold, orange, pink or sand. Left uncut, these plumes will continue to offer textural and vertical appeal all winter long. Ornamental grasses are also helpful in preventing erosion on sloped areas. The tight mats of their root system retain soil even in the strongest downpours.

Grasses come in all shade of green; the Fescues are a beautiful blue-spruce color. Some grasses are variegated and some like Carex, will grow better in shade. A red-brown leafed grass with sand-colored plumes, Pennisetum setaceum Rubrum is only hardy to zone 6. Treat it like an annual and use it as the centerpiece of a flower urn.

Unlike lawn grass that spreads out in all directions, ornamental grasses grow in clumps that enlarge slowly. Yet, they reach their full height each season. After several years of growing in the same spot, they often develop a barren center with grass growing in a ring around it. That is the time to dig up and divide the clump. Using a saw or a large serrated knife, cut the unearthed clump into smaller sections, discard the barren parts, replant some pieces and share others with friends.

Ornamental grasses are easy care plants. They prefer average garden soil with little nutrients. Too much nutrition will cause then to flop over. Once established, they need little watering. As drought tolerant plants they are most suitable for xeriscapes. However, it is important to verify the hardiness zone and the spread for each grass under consideration.

Some ornamental grasses are invasive and rampant growing. It is only safe to purchase them if you plan to grow them in a container or in an area large enough to handle their wild nature. A deep plastic bucket with the bottom cut off, and set into the earth, so that only its rim is above ground, is one way to contain aggressive grasses. Here are the names of those to beware of:- Ammophila arenaria, [European Beach Grass], Glyceria maxima [Manna Grass], Leymus arenarius [Blue Lyme Grass], Miscanthus sacchariflorus [Silver Banner Grass], Panicum virgatum [Switch Grass], Phalaris arundinacea [Reed Canary Grass} and Spartina spectinata [Prairie Cord Grass].

Short, tame grasses, that never exceed 18 inches in height, include varieties of Carex and Festuca, which look best in the front of borders and along paths. Tall grasses that add lushness and movement, and do not grow more than 4 feet tall, include varieties of Calamagrostis and Pennisetum. The tallest grasses that bring awesome drama to the garden are varieties of Miscanthus. These grow from 6 to 10 feet tall and, like all other ornamental grasses that are left unharvested, remain majestic throughout the winter.

Article originally appeared on Garden Design, Montreal, Perennial Flower Gardens, Gardening Tips, Gardening Advice, Gardening Book Reviews (http://allanbecker-gardenguru.squarespace.com/).
See website for complete article licensing information.