Fortunately there are more than just a few, hundreds to be more specific, different types of ornamental grasses for you to choose for your landscape: some small, some huge, some sprawling, some neatly mounded, some evergreen, and some seasonal. The one thing these plants have in common is that they are beautiful and, once established, very easy to maintain.
Before choosing a grass for your landscape, determine whether you want a cool season or warm season grass.
COOL SEASON GRASSES
Cool season grasses begin growth early in the spring and often remain semi-evergreen over the winter. They also seem to do better and have better foliage when they are cool or if they are given sufficient water during drought periods. During a drought, they will go dormant if not watered; this is not fatal, but the resulting brown foliage is not attractive. For the ones that remain semi-evergreen, you should only cut off the brown or winter injured foliage in the spring. Most of these grasses are clumping, which means they will need to be divided as the years pass. Some popular cool season grasses are:
* Fescues such as tufted (Festuca amethystina) or blue (Festuca glauca)3 * Blue Oat Grass (Helictotrichon) * Tufted Hair Grass (Deschampsia) * Autumn Moor Grass (Sesleria)
WARM SEASON GRASSES
Warm season grasses do not begin growth until soil and air temperature have stabilized. These grasses do not remain green during winter, but do provide beautiful contrast and texture to a garden with their dried leaves, stalks, and plumes (which are also a source of food for over-wintering birds). The previous seasons growth usually browns out in the fall requiring the cutting back of plants to about 4-6 inches in the spring. Warm season grasses usually do not require as frequent division as cool season Popular warm season grasses include:
* Switch Grass (Panicum) * Hardy Pampas Grass (Erianthus) * Perennial Fountain Grass (Pennisetum) * Northern Sea Oats (Chasmanthium) * Japanese Silver Grass (Miscanthus)
Before choosing a grass, decide the final location as it relates to your other garden beds. Some grasses form rhizome and are often referred to as “running” grasses. These can be invasive and quickly get out of control in a landscape design. One method for containment is to plant the grass inside a large 5-gallon plastic container with the bottom cut out. However, eventually as the plant matures, rhizomes might still find their way out the bottom and come up somewhere else. Be cautious when using these varieties–they are better suited to forming privacy screens, noise barriers or property borders where they are free to expand. Blue lymegrass (Elymus arenarius), Cordgrass (Spartina), and Ribbongrass (Phalaris arundinacea, aka Reed canary grass, Gardener’s garters) are aggressive, but very attractive.
A nursery that has a display garden lets you see how plants mature and change through the season. This is especially important with grasses because they often appear bedraggled in containers, and don’t reflect the striking beauty they develop once planted. Grasses are typically sold in 1, 2 and 5 gallon containers – ranging in price from $10 to $15 for one in a 2 gallon container. Perennial grasses are a good value – they live for years, sometimes decades, filling out quickly and reaching maturity in one or two years. If you start them from seed, it will take a year or two longer, and this is an economical way to grow a large variety of ornamental grasses.