If you are looking for a low maintenance, easy care plant, perennial grasses are for you! These graceful plants add depth and texture to your garden in summer, fall AND winter. They vary in form and function and are equally at home in an informal or formal setting.
Grasses tolerate a wide range of light and soil conditions and there is a variety for nearly every garden situation. There are both cool and warm season grasses. Cool season grasses begin growing in early spring and hit their prime in early summer. Their plumes, officially called inflorescence, are produced in the cooler months. Warm season grasses begin to grow when the temperatures rise in the spring. By mid-May the new leaves emerge and begin growing very quickly and by mid-summer plants begin to mature. They set seed in the summer and fall, then go dormant for the winter. There are a wide variety of available warm season grasses. We tried to stick to five of our favorite grasses but we just couldn’t. So here’s our favorite six.
Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ (Feather Reed Grass)
Widely used, this popular cool season grass has a distinct upright, clumping habit. Feathery, silvery-pink panicled flowers emerge in late spring on reed-like stems. As the flowers mature, they take on a wheat-like appearance that persists into the winter. It is very hardy and effective in mass, looking like a wheat field set in motion by the slightest breeze. At 4 to 5 foot tall, it makes an excellent screening plant in a full sun to part shade garden situation.
Carex plantaginea (Seersucker Sedge, Plantainleaf Sedge)
Easily recognized by broad evergreen leaves, this native sedge has become somewhat rare in Illinois (it was collected in Cook Co. over a century ago). It is the showiest of all our woodland sedges having shiny deep green leaves that are unusually broad and puckered. The effect is of a really wide-leaved wrinkled grass. Found in moist woods, it likes shade to part shade and grows 6-12 inches high by 12-18 inches wide. You can also use it in containers!
Festuca glauca ‘Elijah Blue’ (Blue Fescue, Sheep’s Fescue)
This attractive clump-forming, cool season grass grows best in full sun. Hardy and low tufted, it has delicate, arching thin blades that are a striking ice blue. It grows in dense clumps, making it nice for edging or mass planting. It needs a light, well-drained soil which makes it perfect for a sunny rock garden or as a groundcover in poor soils. It grows 6-12 inches high by 6-12 inches wide—what it lacks in height it makes up in beauty. (No need to cut these back in the spring.)
Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus’ (Japanese Silver Grass)
This classic, sun-loving warm season grass, has finely textured, graceful arching, light green foliage with a central white stripe. Copper-colored flowers rise above the foliage in late summer. The plumes age to silver, then to tan and remain showy throughout the winter. It will tolerate dry soils, but is very tolerant of having its roots immersed in water for short periods of time, making it a good rain garden plant. Its grows 4 to 5 feet tall by 2 to 3 feet wide.
Panicum virgatum ‘Northwind’ (Switch Grass)
An extremely upright clump-forming warm season grass. Its tough, broad, sage-green leaves stand bolt upright even in the strongest of winds. In late summer it has a magnificent show of autumn colors and upright floral spikes. A native cultivar that is great in sunny spots. It grows 5 to 6 feet tall. If it’s sunny, try planting this in that narrow area between your sidewalk and your house.
Sporobolus heteroplepis (Prairie Dropseed)
This grass is native to our prairie state of Illinois and is a natural addition to the home garden. Dense arching clumps of fine-textured, emerald green leaves give a fine texture to the garden. Thin, arching flowering stalks of wispy seed heads add to the beauty of this eye-catching native grass. An added surprise the flowering stalks smell just like buttered popcorn! It grows only 2 to 3 feet tall and wide. S. ‘Tara’ is a more upright version of this beautiful, fine textured native grass.
Whether it is a large specimen that makes a statement, or a collection of small delicate grasses used to add a welcome softness along the edge of a path, every garden should include an ornamental grass. Remember, it’s best to cut back all grasses in the spring. The dried leaves and plumes provide insulation for the plant, food and shelter for animals, and beauty for you in the winter.
We have many grass selections planted in our gardens at both locations. We invite you to come and view these beauties - you may just want to have them all!
Posted on 7/21/2016 at 11:50:00 AM