Lee Valley Tools    Gardening Newsletter
   Vol. 7, Issue 7
   October 2012
 
   Ornamental Grasses
 
 
Blue oat grassBlue oat grass
The lovely arching shape and spectacular color of blue oat grass

Ornamental grasses are popular with garden designers because of their variety of size, form and color. They are adaptable to a range of sites including dry slopes, wetland margins and sunny or shady locations. The grasses can be classed into two major groupings: the warm-season ones and the cool-season ones. Cool-season species, such as blue oat grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens) and yellow foxtail grass (Alopecurus pratensis 'Aureus'), flourish in spring and tend to be smaller. Warm-season grasses, such as miscanthus and switch grass (Panicum virgatum), reach their potential in late summer and early fall. They need a bit more space than their cool-season counterparts. Use species from either group as stand-alone accent plants, companion plants in borders and groundcovers. They also make great living screens and barriers.

Uses in the Garden
Taller, bulkier grasses such as the impressive plume grass (Erianthus ravennae), giant Chinese silver grass (Miscanthus floridulus) and giant cane (Arundo donax) are commonly used to fill sunny corners, define property boundaries and screen objectionable views. Tall clump-forming grasses such as miscanthus, feather reed and switch grass species make wonderful focal points throughout the garden. Be sure to leave enough space around them, so they can reach their full size and shape. When used around pools, decks and patios, variegated forms of taller spiky subjects, such as zebra grass (Miscanthus sinensis 'Zebrinus'), with its gold bars on green foliage, and variegated maiden grass (M. sinensis 'Variegatus'), with its green leaves with white stripes, draw the eye upwards. As bookend plantings, they can be used to mark the approaches to steps, ramps or pathways.

 
 
             
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