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Go With Grasses

by Carole McCray

Last spring I decided the foundation plantings of two decades had to go. My aim was to create year-round interest, eye-catching appeal, variety of texture, foliage, and height, and tones to complement existing perennial flower gardens, threes, and shrubs.

Ornamental grasses gave me all I asked plus easy care and the added excitement of sound and motion. Dancing through the seasons, my fancy grasses do a tango dip when winter winds blow, and I can hear their foliage stir and whisper softly in the summer breeze.

The dramatic appearance of ornamental grasses makes a bold statement from spring green to faded tones of silver and gold in fall. Grasses can sustain the bare-bones composition of a garden. They can be an austere sculpture against a backdrop of winter white. Their showiness allows them to be a garden unto themselves, or without overpowering, grasses combine well with annuals, perennials, and ornamental shrubs or trees. To select annual or perennial grasses to meet your landscaping needs and designs, visit your local Growise Center.

Grasses can be short or tall, arched, weeping, or upright. Foliage of fine-textured blades or bold stalks comes in a color range of blue-green, green, lime-green, brown, red, and pink. There are variegated zebra-striped grasses and others with yellow, green or white horizontal or vertical bands. Flower heads on grasses resemble feathery plumes or downy soft, fuzzy tails, while others have tiny airy flowers a top slender stem.

 Grasses Go Solo

Ornamental grasses are sensational specimen plants used to define a specific spot with color and texture. Maiden Grass (Miscanthus sinensis 'Gracillimus') is a superb specimen plant reaching up to 7 feet, hardy to zone 5 with fine-textured, arched foliage; pink flowers in summer turn creamy and last through winter. Your local Growise Center is where you will find grasses to transform an ordinary corner into a dramatic focal point.

 A Living Fence

Grasses can reach as tall as 14 feet and make a natural fence. Plume Grass (Erianthus hostii) is a fine stand of grass for a windbreak or as a living screen. Pink plumes burst forth in late summer and linger through fall; foliage stays till mid-winter. Reaching to 15 feet, Giant Miscanthus (Miscanthus sinensis 'Giganteus') is excellent as a wind barrier or shield to hide an undesirable view; flowers in September last until early winter; foliage goes till late winter. Plume and Giant are hardy to zone 5. Bamboo-like Giant Reed grass (Arundo donax) can reach a height of 18 feet, keeps flowers and foliage through early winter, and is hardy to zone 7.

 Superb Support Players

Grasses win applause in a variety of supporting roles.

Backdrop-Eulalia Grass (Miscanthus sinensis), reaches 8 feet and keeps foliage through late winter. Zebra Grass, variegated and off the same species, can go to 6 feet and serves as a contrasting background to an annual or perennial bed.

Ground cover-Blue Fescue (Festuca ovina) or Sheep Fescue, a silvery-blue, wiry 10-inch tufted grass likes sun or shade. Ribbon Grass (Phalaris arundinacea 'Picta") keeps its white and green variegated, quick-to-spread foliage till early winter; it makes a hardy ground cover on slopes and tree-shaded areas.

Variegated Sedge (Carex conica 'Variegata') is used in masses and has foliage year-round. Low grasses are excellent to fill bare spots in beds or to edge a walkway.

Waterscaping-Prairie Cord Grass (Spartina pectinata 'Aureo-Marginata') can handle wet areas. Miscanthus varieties tolerate moist conditions. In shallow water Giant Reed (Arundo donax) can grow.

 Tips for Growing Grasses

Most grasses need 6 hours of sun daily. Plant in spring as soon as soil can be worked. Mulch after planting. Water once a week. Fertilize in early spring with bonemeal. Cut away dead foliage and seed stalks with a string trimmer or hedge shears. Clumps can be cut back to within 6 inches of the ground, and if needed can be divided.

Visit your Growise Center this spring to find the fancy grasses for your landscaping fancy.

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