|Story last updated at 10:25 p.m. on Thursday, May
Ornamental grasses gaining modern
By Connie Cottingham
published in the Athens Banner-Herald on Friday, May 18, 2001.
Although ornamental grasses seem
fairly new here, they have been popular in Europe,
especially Germany, for much
Although ornamental grasses
seem like a fairly new development in home landscapes,
it was the fashion in Victorian plantings and flower
arrangements. Variegated forms were especially popular
then. Pennisetum grasses have soft textured blossoms.
Kurt Bluemel, a nurseryman, and
Wolfgang Oehme, a German-born landscape architect, have been
two strong advocates for the use of ornamental grass as a
design element in landscapes for
Hot, dry seasons may convince
us these tough beauties do have a place in our landscapes.
Several grasses have been introduced by Kurt Bluemel, Inc.
Nursery (2740 Greene Lane, Baldwin, MD 21013-9523), which is
an excellent source for hard-to-find and unusual
Many ornamental grasses are
available in area nurseries. With drought tolerance,
year-round interest, little debris, and a large selection,
grasses should be incorporated into the landscape with
perennials and shrubs.
a texture and color contrast against evergreen shrubs in
winter and a soft green background for blooming plants in
In perennial beds, grasses can
provide an upright form and help blend colors
Large grasses can be used to
break up expanses of fence or screen A/C
A combination of grasses
with daylilies do not require edging or weeding - just mow
up to them. Provide a thick mulch around a new planting to
give them a head start against weeds. Once established, they
can stand their ground.
varieties include horizontal striping, such as Zebra
Grass and Porcupine grass, or verticle striping, as in
container-grown grasses at the same soil level they were
growing in the container. Bare root plants should have the
crowns slightly elevated, like you would plant strawberries.
When dividing larger grasses (about every three years, but
they can tolerate a longer period), you may need to use an
ax or chain saw.
Below is a sampler of
ornamental grasses available (there are
Each one has the botanical
name and hardiness zones listed. Although their "blooms"are
described, ornamental grasses really produce inflorescence,
or seed clusters, not traditional flowers.
Small Ornamental Grasses
Blue Fescue (Festuca cinerea syn. Festuca
avina glauca) is a 6-inch clump, shaped like a little sea
urchin. It's often recommended as a
The clumping growth habit
will never create an even texture in a large mass, but the
spring blooms in mass make quite a statement. I prefer using
Blue Fescue as an accent or edging plant. The blue color
combines well with grays, the super-fine texture contrasts
with almost everything.
Sweet Flag (Acorus gramineus) is a wetland
perennial that can adapt to drier conditions. It has
iris-like foliage and comes in a variegated form. Great for
a pond edge or constantly moist site.
Ribbon Grass, or Gardener's Garters (Phalaris
arundinacea 'Picta', zones 4-9) is a very invasive
groundcover that is semi-evergreen here. Although invasive
is a negative trait in a small bed it works for awkward
narrow spaces, like a 6-inch strip between a concrete walk
and a wall, and takes some shade. It's variegated foliage
looks great next to deep greens, or the Chrysanthemum
pacificum and works great in flower arrangements. 'Feesey's
Form' has new growth that has red blush to the variegated
foliage. This grass does prefer rich, moist soil.
Japanese Blood Grass (Imperata 'Red Baron', zones
6-9) is 1- to 2-feet-tall with no inflorescence and intense
red foliage. It will take part shade.
The Miniature Fountain Grasses (Pennisetum 'Little
Bunny' and 'Honey', zones 6-9) have fluffy blooms on clumps
only 8 to 12 inches high.
Quaking Grass (Briza media, zones 4-8) is an 18-inch
clump, with 3-feet-tall blooms that look like oats. The
early summer blooms are dyed and used in arrangements as a
Fountain Grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides, zones
6-9) is one of the easiest ornamental grasses to find. It
looks great in mass and blends well with perennials. This 3-
to 4-foot-tall grass blooms in summer. Fountain grasses are
available that grow 1 to 2 feet, such as 'Hameln,' or have
pink, white, or black inflorescence. Purple fountain grass
is not a reliable perennial for our area, but is a fun plant
to grow as an annual or in containers.
Red Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum, zones 5-9) is
3- to 4-feet tall. The airy blooms appear in summer and the
foliage turns red in fall.
Little Blue Stem (Andropogon scoparius, zones 4-9)
Blue-green color and upright form seems to make this grass
one of the darlings of garden writers.
Hardy Pampas Grass or Ravenna Grass (Erianthus
ravennae, zones 5-9) gets 8- to 10-feet tall and produces
plume-like blooms. It looks similar to Pampas grass, but the
bloom is not as large and it will survive cold weather.
True Pampas Grass (Cortaderia selloana, zone 8-10)
has showy plumes 8 feet in the air. This is about as far
north as this plant will grow.
has pink blooms. This plant truly commands attention.
The Miscanthus Grasses
Kurt Blumel, Inc. Nursery offers over 50 different
Miscanthus. Most are more than 5 feet tall; the range is 3-
to 10-feet. Most take full sun, have narrow leaves and a
clumping form, and produce blooms one or more feet above the
Maiden Grass (Miscanthus gracillimus, zones 6-9)
This grass catches the breeze. It blooms in October and
keeps its form all winter. Almost all area nurseries carry
this one. Mine matured into a clump 5 feet tall (more than
six in bloom) and about the same across.
Silver Variegated Maiden Grass (Miscanthus
sinensis 'Morning Light', zones 5-9) is 4- to 5-feet tall,
with silver edged foliage that catch the light.
Porcupine Grass (Miscanthus sinensis 'Strictus',
zone 6-9) and Zebra Grass (Miscanthus sinensis 'Zebrinus',
zone 6-9) both grow 6- to 8-feet tall with horizontal
stripes. Zebra grass blooms later than Porcupine Grass
(September blooms). Both work well at the edge of a pond.
Giant Chinese Silver Grass (Miscanthus floridulus
syn. M. giganteus), an 8- to 10-foot-tall plant with wider
leaves resembling bamboo, is one I want to
'Adagio' is a dwarf Miscanthus,
maturing at 2 feet tall.
Once you start
with grasses, exploring sedges (which can take more shade),
rushes and clump-forming (non-invasive) bamboos is your next