Ornamental grasses can add a visual dimension not found in the traditional use of evergreen shrubs in the home landscape. There are many grasses with unique colors and textures and they add visual interest during the winter months. The only pruning they need is to be cut back to about six inches from the ground in the fall or spring.
In my experience, grasses have been very easy to grow. Many of them will tolerate average soil conditions and there are some that will adapt quite well to wet or dry areas. Most perennial grasses grow in clumps or bunches. As the clumps grow and get bigger, they will need to be lifted, or dug up and separated into smaller clumps. They can then be replanted into your landscape or potted to give to friends. An indication that a clump needs to be separated is a bare spot in the middle of it. Most grasses produce flowers but not the kind of flower that has colorful petals. There are some annual grasses that have beautiful textures and colors, but of course they have to be replanted each year.
Here are a few examples of some grasses that grow well in our Zone 5.
Switch Grass panicum virgatum ’Dallas Blues’ – blue-green foliage 4-5 ft. tall with 6- to 8-inch flowers. Does well in wet areas in full sun to light shade.
Ribbon Grass phalaris arundinacea ‘Feesey’s’ – this one is an aggressive spreader with light green foliage with a white stripe down the center and has pink tones in the summer, likes light sun to shade, 1½ to 2 ft. tall with flowers about 3 ft. tall. Cut back in late summer to encourage new growth. To control the spread of this grass it can be planted in a five-gallon bucket or something similar to that with the bottom cut out and buried in the ground.
Giant Chinese Silver Grass miscanthus giganteus – this grass will get 8 ft. to 12 ft. tall with 10- to 14-inch silvery plume flowers in late fall. It will survive in most soils, but the better the soil, the taller it will get. The stems look much like bamboo and make fine plant markers for the garden. This grass can be very difficult to relocate once it is established.
Blood Grass imperata cylindrical – this is a slow spreading grass with red foliage and produces no flowers, grows 1 to 2 ft. tall, moderate to wet soil, likes full sun but will tolerate partial shade.
As always, Happy Gardening!
The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange County.