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Grasses that are great for gardens



Published: Sat, April 16, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Most require little maintenance and add color and texture.

THE VINDICATOR

Grass used to be something you mowed, not something you grew in your flowerbeds.

That's all changed, however, with the growing popularity of ornamental grasses.

"The colors, the textures, the different heights - ornamental grasses can add something different and unique to your landscaping," said Judy Bott of Elliott's Western Reserve Nursery in Boardman.

Better yet, most ornamental grasses require little maintenance, resist pests and disease and will tolerate poor soil and harsh winters.

They're also quite affordable.

"Most types we sell are in the range of $20 or less," Bott said.

"They're perennials, so we sell them in one-, two- or five-gallon pots."

Great grass

Some of the most common types of ornamental grasses that can be grown in this area (zone five) are:

UBlue oat grass. This clump-forming perennial with spiky blue leaves grows to a height of 12 to 36 inches and works well in borders or as a ground cover.

UVariegated bulbous oat grass. The narrow leaves of this oat grass boast thin green stripes. Plants grow to about 24 inches and work well in borders.

UBlue Lyme grass. This mound forming grass has blue leaves with sharp tips. It reaches a height of one to two feet and works well in borders. However, it can be invasive.

UBottlebrush grass. This perennial woodland grass likes shade. It grows to a height of 24 to 48 inches and produces wispy plumes through fall.

UFeather reed grass. This grass grows to a height of five to seven feet and produces large plumes from May to June. In warm climates it stays green all year.

UFescue grass. Fescue grasses have spiky leaves that form short, compact clumps. They come in shades of green and blue and look great in borders and rock gardens. Bearskin fescue, sheep's fescue, Elijah blue fescue, sea urchin fescue and Mueller's fescue all tolerate zone five.

UKarl Foerster grass. This feathery reed grass grows to a height of five or six feet and enjoys full or part sun.

UMaiden grass. This wispy green grass has thin blades that ripple in the breeze. Maiden grass produces copper-red tassels in autumn and grows to a towering height of five to eight feet.

USwitch grass. There are a variety of switch grasses that can be grown in our area. Cloud nine, Haense Herms, heavy metal, red rays and squaw switch are some of the most common. Most switch grasses offer showy red foliage during fall and range in height from three to seven feet.

UTufted hair grass. This wispy grass boasts a soft golden color and reaches a height of two to three feet.

UZebra grass. This grass earned its name due to its horizontal yellow stripes. It grows to a height of six to eight feet and prefers to be near water.

Speaking of water, although most ornamental grasses will tolerate clay-like soil, they won't tolerate standing water.

"Unless you are purchasing types of ornamental grasses specifically for growing in a water garden, do not plant your grasses in soggy areas where there is a lot of standing water," Bott advised.

Some ornamental grasses that can be grown in ponds and water gardens are:

UVariegated sweet flag. This grass reaches a height of two to three feet and has green leaves with white or yellow stripes.

UScouring rush. Native to wetlands, this stiff, upright perennial grass has sharp green stems that hold their color all year. Grows to a height of 18 to 48 inches.

UCorkscrew rush. The unusual coiling stems of this grass grow to a height of 24 inches. It thrives in moist locations.

Easy care

Most ornamental grasses also enjoy plenty of sun, so if you want to create a shade garden, you're better off planting ferns and hostas, Bott said.

Although you'll never have to worry about pruning or fertilizing your ornamental grasses, you will probably need to divide plants once they've become established.

"Some types of ornamental grasses can take over and choke out other plants," Bott said.

"After about three years, you should divide perennial grass clumps to thin them out."

Ornamental grasses can be cut back in autumn, but many gardeners choose to leave them standing during winter.

"Some of the taller grasses look nice with snow and frost sticking to them," said Tom Gober, owner of Colonial Gardens in Vienna. "They bring some dimension to the winter garden landscape that is otherwise bare."

If you choose to leave your ornamental grasses standing all winter, simply cut them back in the spring and then wait for new growth.

Another winter bonus is that ornamental grasses planted near the roadside will withstand road salt and return in the spring undamaged.

"Many people plant compact ornamental grasses around their mailboxes because they don't have to worry about damage from salt thrown by the snow plows," Bott said.

Most garden centers start selling ornamental grasses in May.

One type of ornamental grass that many local gardeners search for -- often unsuccessfully -- is pampas grass.

This tall, exotic-looking grass has wispy plumes and the type of grass that many people picture when they hear the words "ornamental grass."

However, both Gober and Bott said they don't sell pampas grass because it will not survive a frigid zone five winter.

"You can enjoy it for a season, but don't expect it to survive the winter and come back next year. Treat it as an annual," Gober said.




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