Understanding Ornamental GrassesGrasses respond and start to grow based upon temperature. Some grasses will start to grow in early spring when temperatures are still cool and others will wait until the soil is warm and temperatures are more stable.
Cool Season GrassesCool season grass will start to grow early in the spring and may even remain semi-evergreen over the winter. Cool season grasses also seem to do better and have better foliage quality when temperatures are cool or if they are given sufficient water during drought periods. If they are not watered during drought, they tend to go dormant resulting in brown foliage. These grasses may require more frequent division to keep them healthy looking and vigorous. If not, they tend to die out in the center. For the ones that remain semi-evergreen, you should only cut off the brown or winter injured foliage in the spring. Some of the more popular cool season grasses include, Fescues, Blue Oat Grass (Helictotrichon) and Tufted Hair Grass (Deschampsia).
Warm Season GrassesWarm season grasses will do better during warmer times of the year and remain good looking even when temperatures are high and moisture is limited. Warm season grasses do not begin to show growth until the weather becomes stable and the soils warm. The previous seasons growth usually browns out in the fall requiring the cutting back of plants to about 4-6 inches in the spring. Warm season grasses usually do not require as frequent division as cool season grasses. Some warm season grasses include Northern Sea Oats (Chasmanthium), Japanese Silver Grass (Miscanthus sp.), Perennial Fountain Grass (Pennisetum) and Switch Grass (Panicum).
Calamagrostis acutifolia 'Avalanche' - Avalanche Feather Reed Grass
'Avalanche' brings the same narrow, upright form to the garden and the same profuse, pluming flower in early to mid-July as 'Karl Forester', but it also brings something completely new... variegated foliage! That's right, deep green foliage carries a wide band of white down the middle of the blade, bringing more interest to an already superb grass. Like 'Karl Forester', plant it in groups and watch the landscape come alive with great color, form, and texture!
4-5' tall x 18-24" wide
Calamagrostis acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ - Karl Foerster Feather Reed Grass
'Karl Foerster' is called the "metamorphic grass." Others describe it as the "perpetual motion grass." The slightest breeze sets this grass in motion. The graceful movement is a highlight for any landscape. It is excellent as a specimen plant or providing a vertical accent in the landscape. Some designers use it for creating a fast developing screen. Others find that this feather reed grass is useful in patio pot containers and will survive most winters without winter protection. Floral designers appreciate this cultivar for its use in fresh or dried arrangements. Stems cut before the flowers mature will last for months in an arrangement while maintaining the golden tan color. In heavy rain or wind the stems will dip and droop in all directions but return to vertical as soon as the storm passes. A combination of Karl Foerster feather reed grass with various other perennials makes a dramatic effect in the landscape. Consider combinations with late summer and fall-blooming perennials blooming perennials such as Coreopsis, Echinacea, Liatris,Rudbeckia. 2001 PERENNIAL PLANT OF THE YEAR!
4-5' tall x 2' wide
Carex hachioensis 'Evergold' syn. morrowii 'Aureo variegata' - Evergold Variegated Japanese Sedge Grass
While not having a significant flower, the bold yellow variegation with a yellow band running longitudinally between green margins on the leaves, makes this grass outstanding. Good groundcover. Does well in shade, a rarity among ornamental grasses. Blooms in July. This striped weeping sedge is the perfect foil for a water feature with it's graceful foliage.
12-18" tall and wide
Chasmanthium latifolium - Northern Sea Oats
It's amaziong how tolerant this grass is without giving up anything in the beauty department. New stems emerge from the soil each spring forming an upright clump with wide, deep green grass blades that curl downward at the end giving a pleasing upright flowing texture. Seed stalks rise above the foliage in the summer and flower in August, bearing unique wide, flattened seed heads that are outstanding ornamentally and cherished by colorful birds for the summer and fall feeding. Even this plants coppery winter foliage color adds to the landscape while its tolerance of any conditions from dry and shaded to sunny and moist make it one of the garden workhorses in the landscape. Suggested Uses include borders, hedges, woodland settings, specimen, massing and arrangements and consider planting with bergenia and daylilies.
ZONE 5 2-4' tall x 18-24" wide
Deschampsia caespitosa 'Goldtau' - Golden Dew Tufted Hair Grass
A superb selection of this underused genus, 'Golden Dew' puts on a subtle yet effective show each August with golden, airy flower heads rising above a mound of dark green foliage. 'Golden Dew' prefers moist soils but tolerates most and is superb planted in groups. High impact can be obtained by mass planting along a driveway or walkway. Also serves as an ornamental gem in the natural garden. Use it at the base of plants that have "bare bottoms" (like Phlox and Monarda). Deschampsia cespitosa is native to moist habitats of the temperate zones of North America, Europe and Asia.
18-24" tall x 12-18" wide
Festuca cinerea 'Elijah Blue' - Blue Fescue
A small, mounding grass best used in groups and masses. 'Elijah Blue' is a much improved variety with an even better blue foliage. A good grass for winter interest. Blooms in June and July. Outstanding icy-blue coloration to the blades of this clumping ornamental grass are maintained through the heat of summer. Buff colored flowers rise above foliage in summer on mature plants, creating eye-catching contrast. Perfectly suited for edging borders or mass planting as a ground cover.
6-10" tall and wide
Hakonechloa macra 'All Gold' - All Gold Hakone Grass
Electric, There's no other word to describe this plant's effect on the landscape than electric. Wide foliage blades are more upright and spiky than other Hakonechloa and form a tighter, slightly smaller mound in the garden. You won't notice the form difference, however, since you will be dazzled by this plant's glimmering, glowing gold colored foliage without a speck of green. Plant it in partial shade for best results and plant it in groups for a galvanizing landscape effect that is impossible to achieve with any other plant.
10-12" tall x 10-12" wide
Helictotrichon sempervirens 'Sapphire' - Sapphire Blue Oat Grass
Great blue color and improved disease resistance will make this smaller scale ornamental grass one of your new favorites. With upright foliage that is wider, bluer, and more rust resistant than the species, this grass should be on everyone's favorite list! Brownish-blue flower spikes with tassels appear in early July and persist through the rest of the summer on this easy care plant that loves full sun, good drainage, and to be grouped for a wonderful, cool blue landscape effect. Blue Oat Grass adds a small, coarse element to rock gardens, coastal gardens, or dry hillsides. It is also great in containers. The best place to plant Helictotrichon is a dry sunny site. Once established, it will not require supplemental watering unless there is a drought. Trim back the old foliage to 3-4" in spring before the new growth emerges. Division is recommended every 3-4 years in spring to keep the plant looking fresh.ZONE 4
2-3' tall x 12-15" wide
Imperata cylindrica 'Red Baron' - Japanese Blood Grass
Aptly named, as the light green leaves are tipped with bright red. This grass prefers a sheltered location and does NOT bloom. Plant in masses in perennial borders, along ponds and streams or in containers. Use as contrast to coarse-textured plants and those with dark foliage. In hot summer areas, they do best in partial shade. In cooler areas, they need full sun for best foliage color. Start by division in early spring. Cut back branches with dead leaves to ground in winter or early spring. Rich red late summer foliage intensifies in autumn. Clumping habit is not invasive. Spectacular when backlit by evening sunlight.
12-18" tall and wide
Miscanthus floridulus - Giant Silver Grass
It's HUGE! Silver plumes bloom in September, and if you don't cut the plant back until spring, you'll be rewarded with unbeatable winter interest. Use as an eye-catching specimen, or a very successful screening hedge. Use giant miscanthus as a stand-alone specimen or plant several in a line to form a screen - no, make that a barricade! Use it to anchor a mixed border, but you probably will want to keep it in the background. Giant miscanthus tolerates fairly wet soils and often is planted at waterside. The persistent stems and long-stalked flowers provide vertical structure and form through the winter. Giant miscanthus tolerates salty and coastal conditions, and can be used in seaside gardens, but withered, winter foliage is likely to be blown off in strong winds. Lower leaves tend to wither and drop off late in the season anyway, leaving a bare zone that may beg for something planted in front. The flowerheads are used in floral arrangements, both fresh and dried plumes persisting indefinitely.
8-12' tall x 5-6' wide
Miscanthus sinensis 'Gracillimus' - Maiden Hair Grass
Graceful green leaf blades give rise to feathery copper flower plumes in late Sept. or Oct. “Gracillimus” has nice golden fall color. 'Gracillimus' is perhaps the oldest cultivar of Miscanthus sinensis and remains very popular to this day. A late season bloomer here at Plants Unlimited, we see only the beginning stages of flowers. Nevertheless, the hardiness, the fine foliage and the spectacular fall colors make 'Gracillimus' a favorite. Suggested Uses include specimen, border, screen, hedge, background plant, massing, by the water and arrangements. Enjoy the foliage of Miscanthus and leave it standing until the new growth starts to appear, possibly as late as May. The combination of the tan foliage and spring bulbs is pleasing. Cut back to about 6" from the crown of the plant.
5-6' tall x 3' wide Miscanthus sinensis 'Little Zebra' - Little Zebra Grass Discovered by Michigan's Thomas Walsh, this dwarf mutation was found on a clump of Miscanthus sinensis. A small growing variety featuring 3-4' tall clumps of green leaves with the familiar yellow bands. The reddish flowers appear in August and persist into the winter. In the landscape, 'Little Zebra' works well as a specimen, a screen or a marginal aquatic plant. For homeowners, the plant is easy to grow and a good choice for beginning gardeners. It tolerates a range of soil conditions and does not require good drainage. 'Little Zebra' should generally be divided in spring or early summer to give it time to establish roots before winter. It should be divided in fall only in very mild climates.
3-4' tall x 3' wide
Miscanthus sinensis 'Morning Light' - Morning Light Japanese Silver Grass
Narrow leaves are silver with a thin green center. A bright and stunning plant with a mature 4' fountain-like mound. Airy white flowers bloom September into October. Coppery-colored flowers in early autumn add fall interest. The flowers and foliage fade to a beautiful tan color in winter and add superb winter elements to the garden. M. 'Morning Light' came into cultivation almost a century ago in Japan. This maiden grass does not flop, nor does it self sow, a great plus for a grass. M. 'Morning Light' grows best when you water it weekly during our summer drought.
4-5' tall x 2-3' wide
Miscanthus sinensis purpurescens - Red Leafed Miscanthus
We love this grass! It's hidden talents surface in early September when cooler weather sets in. Deep green foliage suddenly turns all shades of red, orange and purple. Tall flower spikes add to the show. A compact, very upright form suitable for small spaces or incredibly beautiful in mass. Don’t water stress this Miscanthus, purpurescens likes average-to-moist soils with moderate fertility. Use plumes in dried flower arrangements. Plant in mass plantings or mixed with other perennials or shrubs.
3-5' tall x 2' wide
Miscanthus sinensis 'Silberfeder' - Silver Feather Maiden Hair Grass
This fine German cultivar sports gorgeous white feathery plumes as early as late August, blooming well before Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus’ and many other Maiden Hair grass varieties. Sturdy, green foliage contrasts strikingly with the white plumes. Suggested uses include specimen, border, screen, hedge, background plant, drifts, by the water and dried arrangements. This grass has year-round interest and remains standing through heavy snowfalls. Miscanthus sinensis is native to marshes, slopes and mountainsides of Eastern Asia and west to Africa. It is a source for thatching material for temple roofs and homes.
6-8' tall x 4' wide
Miscanthus sinensis 'Super Stripe' - Super Stripe Miscanthus
Everyone who has grown Ornamental Grasses knows that Zebra and Porcupine Grass are incredibly showy in the summer with their banded foliage. 'Super Stripe' lives up to it's name by "out striping" the others with enough yellow banded color to make these plants jump to the forefront in any landscape. Lush, deep green foliage slowly emerges in the spring with growth momentum and signature yellow bands emerging quicker as late spring heat builds, forming an upright, spreading mound that demands to be seen. Tall flower stalks rise 2-3' above the colorful foliage in August to reveal tawny, fine textured seed heads that dance in the wind from late August through October. 'Super Stripe' loves full sun and is an amazing sight when grouped toward the back of a planting.
4-7' tall x 3-4' wide
Miscanthus sinensis 'Zebrinus' - Zebra Grass
Unique variegation, you won't see this everyday! Horizontal bands of yellow streak across dark green foliage, creating an interesting effect. The vase shape form then arcs gently at the top. Pinkish-copper flowers in September. The form of this
4-5' tall x 3' wide
Molinia caerulea ssp. arundinacea 'Skyracer' - Skyracer Tall Moor Grass
An amazing vertical presence in the landscape, 'Skyracer' throws its head up to 7' above a 3' base of green foliage. A striking form in the winter garden. Blooms in August and September. A selection of the superb clumping grass known as Purple Moor, this one seemingly on growth hormones, with broad erect leaves to 3 ft., sending skyward a sturdy purple-suffused transparent veil of flowers to 7 ft.. which sparkle in early morning dew. Plant in full sun for best effects. Excellent folial tones of rich gold in late autumn and deer resistant.
Panicum amarum 'Dewey Blue' - Dewey Blue Switch Grass
'Dewey Blue' is a grass that is equal parts tough and tender. Its toughness shows in its ability to grow well in the poorest of soils, even in pure sand, and to be nearly impervious to drought once established in the landscape. Its tender side shows in its form and color that makes it a winner in even the most refined landscape. Upright, yet graceful with wispy flower heads in the late summer, this plant's foliage is a glaucous blue color that will be an eye catcher throughout the season. It was selected for its glaucous blue color, and graceful fountain habit. The flowers are airy, emerging in the fall, and persisting as a light beige color throughout the winter. Selected and named, by Rick Darke, for the lower Delaware beach town that bears its name. Native along the shores from Liousiana to Connecticut. It is adapted to dry, sterile locations where it plays an important role in stabilizing.
3-4' tall x 1-2' wide
Panicum virgatum 'Northwind' - Northwind Switch Grass
Panicums just keep getting better! Wide, thick blades lead to a more sturdy and upright form, creating a dramatic specimen or mass planting. powdery blue color is magnificant and showy flower panicles bloom at the end of the summer into fall, August through September. The wide, thick leaf blades and great upright form make this cultivar a real standout in the garden. Fine textured yellow flowers float over the foliage in summer. This bunch grass provides excellent cover and food for ducks, upland game birds, songbirds and small mammals.
5-6' tall x 18-24" wide
Panicum virgatum 'Shenandoah' - Shenandoah Switch Grass
Dependable and showy, this native grass will become your favorite garden chameleon as its blades emerge in spring to form a narrow, upright, steely blue-green column of foliage that begins to add a healthy dose of burgundy red as late spring progresses into summer. By late summer, its foliage is dominated by the stunning red color that is further enhanced by light, airy, small red flowers that form an attractive, airy seed head in late August. You'll love its great color, its ability to attract seed seeking birds, and your ability to succeed with it in the landscape. 'Shenandoah' is a superb plant for grouping in sunny areas and even gives the winter landscape interest with its swaying brown dried foliage.
3-4' tall x 18-24" wide
Panicum x Ruby Ribbons - Ruby Ribbons Switch Grass
Straight from the University of Connecticut's breeding program, this exciting new Panicum will get immediate notice in the garden. Why? There is no other Panicum that turns as deeply and fantastically red as this show stopping selection. 'Ruby Ribbons' is the result of a cross with one parent being 'Heavy Metal' so you know the summer foliage will be metallic blue with red overtones and very attractive. As the cooler weather of fall approaches, so does the red color with the foliage getting so infused with red, you might think you are looking at a Pennisetum rubrum from a distance. It is incredibly darker than 'Shenandoah' and perfect for putting on a late summer and fall show of red that will have you riveted. Plant 'Ruby Ribbons' in a sunny spot in any well drained soil and it will thrive and plant in groups to create colorful sweeps that will take your breath away!
4-5' tall x 2-3' wide
Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Hamelin' - Dwarf Fountain Grass
One of the best dwarf fountain grasses for mass plantings.Seed heads appear in July and open greenish-white, turning a creamy-tan with maturity. Prefers well draining soil. The Fountain or Foxtail grass 'Hamelin', is a semi dwarf form with rounded mounds of fine mid-green leaves. Flowers appear from mid summer on tall stems topped by a bottlebrush or foxtail of pink hairs. Sun or light shade and sheltered. Most soils except waterlogged an drought resistant when established.
2' tall x 18" wide