Whether delicate or strong, short or tall, with or without flowers, ornamental grasses can provide a special kind of interest that flowers along donít or they can be used as a backdrop to flowers.
Grasses are the largest family of the flowering plants and there are numerous varieties of ornamental grasses. Some grasses are tufted, growing in clumps and usually upright, while others are mounded with thick, arching leaves. Some are distinguished by their triangular stems and leaves that are ďthree ranked.Ē Rushes, such as cattails, are those that grow in wet or moist areas.
Some ornamental grasses spread through underground ryhzones while others flower, then form seed heads, which can be dried for decorations. Unless they are in an area that one doesnít mind if they spread, some varieties will need to be kept in check.
A selection of grasses can be made for their color, shape, form, height, or texture. In a larger garden the sight of ornamental grasses waving in the wind, or the rustling sound of the stronger varieties can be pleasing to the eyes and ears.
The colors of grasses may be green, red, tan, brown, variegated, or striped. Popular small to medium varieties include sea oats, tufted hair, liriope, festucas, and fountain grasses. The larger ones are pampas, porcupine, and zebra grasses. One of the largest and also most invasive is bamboo.
Plants need to be divided to maintain their spacing in the garden. Cut the plant as close to the ground as you can before digging it. After digging, splitting can be done with a saw, ax, spade or garden fork, or torn apart by hand. Dig the hole large enough for the new clump and place it just below the soil surface.
Most grasses are easily maintained and need little care after they have been planted. Watering them well the first year will help the roots to develop. When there is a longer dry period more watering is needed, varying with the type of grass, the size of the plants, and their location.
Leaving the grass standing during the winter helps protect the crown of the plant. Be sure to cut them back in the spring so that growth begins earlier.
Article by: St. Louis Public Library staff