Choosing Ornamental Grasses for their Season of Interest

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Ornamental Grasses create visual interest, texture, color and movement when strategically used in your garden, particularly when paired with complementary plantings.

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Here are some tips on choosing Ornamental Grasses for their specific season of interest and suggestions for companion planting.

Spring:

Evergreen sedges, rushes and cool season grasses such as:
Juncus ‘Unicorn’, Milleum e ‘Aurem’, Carex ‘Bowles Golden’, Carex ‘Evergold’, Deschampsia ‘Northern Lights’, Festuca ‘Siskyou Blue’.

Companions:
Euphorbia, Pulsatilla, Spanish Lavender, Heuchera, Spring flowering bulbs.

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Summer:

Helictotrichon eempervirens, Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’, Stipa gigantea, Hakonochloa ‘Aureola’, Pennisetum rubrum, Imperatea ‘Red Baron’

Companions:

Pervoskia ‘Little Sprie’, English Lavender, Guara, Coreopsis, Phygelius, Knautia, Cerntranthus ruber, Achillea, Eryngium, Helianthus, Echinacea, Phlomis.

For shade: Astilbe, Hosta’s, Coleus.

Autumn:

Pennisetum ‘Haemln’, Pannicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’, Miscanthus, Calamagrostis brachytricha, Pennisetum Rubrum.

Companions:

Anemone, Asters, Eupatorium, Helenium autumnale, Sedum, Schizostylis.

Winter:

Carex ‘Ice Dance’, Carex ‘Frosty Curls’, Carex Buchannii, Miscanthus

Companions:

Euphorbia wulfenii, Heuchera, Ivy, Winter bulbs such as Galanthus and Winter Aconites.

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Previous articles in this series:

Ornamental Grasses and Companion Planting – Part 1

Ornamental Grasses and Companion Planting – Part 2

Ornamental Grasses and Companion Planting – Part 3

Grasses and Companion Planting – Part 3

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In this article, we’re going to look at which types of ornamental grasses work for specific types of containers.

in our previous article, we looked at how to grow ornamental grasses and which grasses are best for specific conditions.  If you missed these article, click the links to read these.

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Specimen Grasses for Large Containers 12″ & Bigger:

Chasmanthium latifolium
Coraderia pumila
Miscanthus sinesis ‘Adagio’Miscanthus sinesis ‘Graziella’
Miscanthus sinesis  ‘Malepartus’
Miscanthus sinesis  ‘Morning Light’
Miscanthus sinesis  ‘Rotsilber’
Miscanthus sinesis ‘Variegatus’
Miscanthus sinesis  ‘Zebrinus’
Miscanthus transmorrisonesis
Molinia caerulea ‘Moorflamme’
Molinia caerulea ‘Skyracer’
Panicum virgatum ‘Haense Herms’
Panicum virgatum ‘Heavy Metal’
Pennisetum alopecuroides
Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Moudry’
Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’

Specimen Grasses for Containers 6″ – 12″

Anemanthele lessoniana
Carex albula ‘Frosty Curls’
Carex buchananii
Carex comans ‘Bronze’
Carex dipsacea
Carex flagellifera
Carex morrowii ‘Ice Dance’
Carex oshimensis ‘Evergold’
Carex testacea
Festuca Amethystina
Festuca glauca ‘Elizjah B;jue’
Festuca idahoensis ‘Skikiyou Blue’
Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’
Helictotrichon sempervirens
Imperatea cylindrica ‘Red Baron’
Juncus effusus ‘Gold Strike’
Juncus patens ‘Carmen’s Gray’
Molinia caerulea ‘Variegata’
Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’
Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Little Bunny’
Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’
Pennisetum messiacum ‘Red Bunny Tails’
Stipa tenuissima

Grasses for Edge of Mixed Containers:

Carex albula ‘Frosty Curls’
Carex comans ‘Bronze’
Carex oshimensis ‘Evergold’
Festuca iahoensis ‘Siskiyou Blue’
Festuca glauca ‘Elijah Blue’
Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’

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Grasses for Center of Mixed Containers:

Carex buchananil
Juncus effusus ‘Gold Strike’
Juncus patens ‘Carmen’s Gray’
Miscanthus sinesis ‘Adagio’
Molinia caerulea ‘Moonflamme’
Molinia caerulea ‘Skyracer’
Molinia caerulea ‘Variegata’

In Part 4 of this series, we’ll look at choosing Ornamental Grasses for their season of interest.

 

Grasses and Companion Planting – Part 2

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In Part 1 of the article on Grasses and Companion Planting, we discussed the ‘how to’s’ of planting and caring for cold and warm season ornamental grasses.

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In Part 2, we’re going to talk about the grasses you should choose for specific environmental conditions.

Drought Tolerant Ornamental Grasses for Hot, Dry, Sunny Conditions:

Andropogon gerardii
Arundo donax
Bouteloua grucilis
Chasmanthium latifolium
Cortadaria varieties
Festuca glauca ‘Elijah Blue’
Helictotrichon sempervirens
Leymus arenarius ‘Findhorn’
Miscanthus sinesis ‘Gracillimus’
Panicum virgatum varieties
Pennisetum oriental
Phalaris varieities
Sesleria varieties
Sorghastrum mutans
Sporobolus heterolepsis
Stipa tennuissima

elijah-blue ornamental grass

Water Lovers

Acorus varieties
Arundo donax
Carex elata ‘Bowls Golden’
Carex muskingumensis varieties
Carex nigra varieties
Carex pseudocyperus
Carex speciosa ‘The Beatles’
Equisetum varieties
Glyceria maxima  ‘Variegata’
Imperatat cylindrical ‘Red Baron’
Juncus varieties
Phalaris varieties
Typha varieties

Dry Shade Drought Tolerant:

Calamagrostis arundinacca ‘Brachytricha’
Carex oshimensis ‘Evergold’
Carex muskingumensis varieties
Chasmanthium latifolium
Luzula varieties
Phalaris varieties
Sesleria varieties

Shade Tolerant:

Acorus varieties
Arrhenatherum elatius bulbosum ‘Variegatum’
Briza media
Calamagrostis arundianacca varieties
Carex dolichostachys ‘Gold Foundtains’
Carex flagellifera
Carex morrowii varieties
Carex muskingumensis varieties
Carex nigra varieties
Carex oshimensis ‘Evergold’
Carex pseudocyperus
Carex speciosa ‘The Beatles’
Chasmanthium latifolium
Deschampsia caespitosa varieties
Equisetum varieties
Hakonechloa varieties
Luzula varieties
Milleum effusum ‘Aureum’
Molinia varieites
Ophiopogon nigresence
Phalaris varieties
Schoenplectus tabernaemontani “Albescens’
Sesleria varieties

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Deer Resistant:

Fenneca varieties
Miscanthus varieties
Pennisetum varieties

Salt Tolerant:

Elymus magellanicus
Leymsu arenarius ‘Findhorn’
Panicum virgatum varieties
Phalaris varieties
Sporobolus heterolepsis

Grasses for Cut Flowers:

Arundo donax varieties
Briza media
Chasmanthium latifolium
Coradaria Varieties
Miscanthus varieties
Panicum virgatum varieties
Pennisetum varieties

In Part 3 of our Ornamental Grasses and Companion Planting article, we’ll feature ways to use grasses in containers.  In the meantime, here is some more reading:

Books worth looking at:

The Color Encylopedia of Ornamental Grasses – Rick Dark – Timber Press

The Encylopedia of Ornamental Grasses – John Greenlee – Rodale Gardening

Landscaping with Ornamental Grasses – Sunset Books

Plant Finder’s Guide to Ornamental Grasses – Martin Quinn & Catherine MacLeod – Whitecap

Heritage Perennials Perennial Gardening Guide  – John Valleau – Heritage Perennials

Grasses – Nancy J. Ondra – Storey Books

A Place in the Rain – Michael Lascelle – Whitecap

Gardening with Grasses – Michael King & Piet Oudolf – Timber Press

Bold Romantic Gardens – Wolfgang Oehme & James Van Sweden – Spacemaker

 

Grasses and Companion Planting

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There has never been a better time to explore the beauty of ornamental grasses.

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With so many varieties available, there is an ornamental grass for every location, from full sun to shade, as well as for shallow or poor soils.

By incorporating ornamental grasses into your landscape you are adding form, texture, scale, colour (from flowers as well as foliage) and movement.  They can also be very luminous and translucent.

We are always looking for plants that offer year round interest as well as being relatively low maintenance. Most ornamental grasses fit the bill. They’re not water hogs, heavy feeders or prone to suffer from pests and diseases. They require little more than an annual trim.

Understanding Cool and Warm Season Grasses:

Cool season grasses:

Actively grow between temperatures above freezing and up to mid 20 degrees Celsius.

Are mostly evergreen (a few are deciduous)

Are mostly low growers up to 2 feet in height.

Mostly flower late winter to early summer.

Warm Season Grasses:

These grasses need warm soil to get growing in Spring.

They grow best when temperatures are over 24 degrees Celsius.

Die back to dormant buds beneath soil surface in the Fall.

Mostly taller growers between 2 to 8 feet, but some get as high as 15 feet.

Start flowering mid-summer to first frost.

Ornamental Grass Growing Tips:

Cut back cool season grasses by no more than two-thirds in early spring (February – March) as new growth starts. Here in the Lower Mainland, you can also lightly trim in September to remove sun burnt foliage. Cool season grasses rarely tolerate being cut back hard.

Removing old dead foliage can be done in several ways: raked out with a fine lawn rake, or by running fingers through the foliage starting from the crown up. This works well when you wear rubber gloves.  If you have just trimmed the grass, then rubbing your palm across the top of the trimmed grass usually dislodges dead foliage.

Warm season grasses can be cut back to the ground after the first killing frosts, but most gardeners prefer to leave the dead foliage for winter interest. They therefore only cut them back just before, or as they start to throw out new shoots from March to early April.

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If in doubt as to whether your ornamental grass is cool or warm season, the rule of thumb is that if there is still color in the foliage (it’s not all dried and dead) after the first killing frost, then it’s probably a cool season grass and could be cut back to about a half to two-thirds.  If all the foliage has died back to ground level and is dried and straw looking, then it’s a warm season grass and can be cut back to ground level ie. 2 – 3 inches.

Take a bit of time planning where in your garden you’re going to locate your warm season grasses as most have highly luminous foliage and flowers. They will look fantastic when backlit, so plant them where they catch early morning or evening sun for best effect, or to the south of the garden.

A common problem when planting is planting too deep as many grasses will suffer or even die if planted this way. Plant to the same soil level as it is in the container. Also, if mulching, do not choke the crown. Taper the mulch down so that there is no mulch touching the crown.

Ornamental grasses rarely require staking. Most are clump forming and they’re not heavy feeders, so require no additional fertilizer.

When dividing ornamental grasses, I recommend that with warm season grasses that you divide them every 3 – 5 years to avoid the center of the plant from dying out. It’s best to do this in early Spring, or at the latest as new shoots emerge from the ground.  Dig out the very compact root ball and divide into quarters with a sharp spade or old axe.  Then replant to the original soil depth.

It is not crucial to divide cool season grasses but I recommend that they also be divided every 2 – 3 years to get best results. Divide them in the same as warm season grasses and approximately the same time – just as new growth starts.

If deer eat your plants, look at planting Festuca, Miscanthus and Pennisetum varieties.

Use ornamental grasses as cut flowers.

To get best results from cut flower ornamental grasses, cut before the flower has fully opened.  The flowers will generally last a couple of weeks in water. After that, drain off the water and let them dry. They will make an excellent dried arrangement that will look good for over a year.

In our next article on grasses we will share the best grasses for specific environmental conditions.