by Karen Weiland, Advanced Master Gardener
For me ornamental grasses rank at the top of the easy to grow list. Most grasses require minimal care, are very adaptable and will grow in poorer soils. Grasses are so easy to use in many different areas of the landscape and garden as screens, accents and focal points.
Tall grasses in a large grouping can act as a very effective screen for an unattractive view. Good choices would be tall species such as Big Bluestem (6’ to 10’ tall), Moor grass (7’ tall or more) or Ravenna grass (9’ to 12’ tall). One thing to keep in mind is that at some point in the fall or spring, the grass will need to be cut back so there will be a period of time that you will lose that screen effect.
Grasses can add texture and color to the landscape. Some, such as fountain grass, have a soft, mounding growth habit that complements the bolder texture of other grasses like the more upright growing Switch grass or Maiden grass. An attractive flower bed might include Fountain grass, bold Black-eyed Susan, colorful Canna and Coleus with a backdrop of Switch grass.
Be it walls, paving or some other form of hardscape, grasses can soften their hard edges and make an area feel more inviting . Grasses are good choices for planting in a pool area because they do not bloom or produce a flower that attracts bees. Blue Fescue is a smaller growing grass that works very well as an edge or border for a bed. To create a neat and tidy line, plant them a bit closer together than you normally would.
Don’t limit your grass plantings to the flowerbeds or borders. Use them in containers on the deck or patio to create drama and elegance. Purple Fountain grass is one that I especially like to use in containers as the focal point with other flowers planted around it. And as always when choosing plants for a container remember to choose those plants that will thrill, fill and spill. The “thrill” is your focal point, the “fill” is that which will fill in the area at the base and the “spill” is that which will drape over the edge of the container.
For some natural beauty create a meadow or prairie area with native grasses and flowers. Some good choices for our area are Little Bluestem, Coneflower, Goldenrod. Butterfly Weed, Blue Sage, Maiden grass and those grasses mentioned earlier. These areas require minimal maintenance, attract wildlife and are environmentally friendly.
Go ahead and tuck a few into your vegetable garden to pretty things up. Just be careful about which ones you use. The clump-forming varieties would be best. Those that produce runners, such as Ribbon grass, may end up “running a-muck” in your garden. Not a good thing!
Most ornamental grasses grow in a “bunch” form which slowly gets bigger over time. Eventually these “bunches” will need to be dug up and divided. Unlike a shrub, which may require pruning to maintain its shape and size, perennial ornamental grasses will grow to a predictable size each year. I prefer to cut mine back in the spring so that I can enjoy the winter interest it gives me in my landscape.
As always, Happy Gardening!
More information about gardening and related subjects is available online at www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/garden_pubs. The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange County, 636-2111 in Noble County, 925-2562 in DeKalb County and 668-1000 in Steuben County.
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