Ornamental grasses provide excellent structure and grace to a garden. The texture provided by grasses often provides contrast to the broader leaves of shrubs and other plants in our beds. A diverse group of plants, ornamental grasses come in many colors and heights and are relatively easy to care for. Often, grasses can grow a variety of soil conditions and will tolerate poorer soils. They are resilient to cold temperatures, drought tolerant, and generally disease resistant as well.
Most ornamental grasses bloom late summer to early fall. In a majority of spaces, it is best to avoid spreading varieties such as Ribbon grass and use clumping grasses instead. When planting ornamental grasses, it is especially important not to plant too deep. Grasses should be planted at the same soil level in the ground as they are in their nursery pot, or even slightly higher, as it is essential not to bury the crown.
Morning Light Miscanthus is perhaps one of our most used ornamental grasses. Growing to approximately 4 to 6 feet, its variegated blades give a silvery appearance. Zebra miscanthus also has showy blades with horizontal creamy yellow and green stripes.
Pennisetums are another widely used grass. Slightly shorter than miscanthus, pennisetums are often a better fit for a small garden. Karley Rose is a popular variety, growing 3 to 4 feet with pinkish-burgundy flower spikes that glow in the sun. Dwarf pennisetums exist as well, such as Piglet, Hamln and Little Bunny- all of which grow to be under two and a half feet.
Muhly grass is eye-catching especially when grown in groupings. Muhly grass has pink or white fluffy blooms with an airy appearance that appear almost cloud-like atop their foliage. Growing approximately 4 feet tall, muhly grass is known for its ability to survive with extreme neglect.
Ornamental grasses will turn brown as the weather cools. You can cut grasses back in late fall, or leave them through winter as structural interest in the garden and then cut back in mid to late spring before the new growth emerges. When cutting ornamental grasses back, leave just a low mound a couple inches above the ground.
Over time, some grasses may die out in the center. Dividing and replanting grasses helps rejuvenate and renew your clump. Division is best done when your grass is actively growing but not yet flowering. Dig up your existing clump and split in to two or more smaller clumps, ensuring that each portion has its own set of roots and replant.