Ornamental grasses a colorful must for any garden

By Steve Smith

Ornamental grasses are an interesting class of perennials. They have some unique qualities that make them an essential part of my borders.

Unfortunately, many gardeners see them as weeds that either need to be sprayed with Roundup or trimmed with a Weed-Eater.

Ornamental grasses can be used in many ways: from bold specimen subjects (like Pampas grass) to large massed plantings waving in the breeze, or as low groundcover, edging or even in containers. Some grasses are grown for their colorful foliage in green, gold, red, cream or white – sometimes even striped or banded. Others may be valued more for their showy flower plumes, spikes or seed heads. Several kinds provide dramatic and lasting interest throughout the winter. Don’t stressing about these grasses spreading all over your garden. Almost all ornamental grasses sold today do not run. Rather, they are clumping varieties that are very well-behaved.

The selection of grasses has never been better, with an astounding range of height, spread, color and flowering habit. There should be room in every garden for at least one variety, as they can fill a variety of functions. Tall, upright-growing types create visual interest, especially when used toward the back of the border. Their fine textures contrast nicely against the coarser foliage of broad leaf shrubs or perennials. Medium-sized grasses are effective when massed together, particularly in gardens with a low-maintenance emphasis. Spring flowering bulbs combine well with these for early season interest. Low-growing grasses are ideal for edging around shrubs or combining with spreading evergreens. When mass planted, they will form an attractive low maintenance groundcover.

Grasses can be divided into two basic groups, based on their growth cycles:

•Cool-Season Grasses: These begin growth in early spring, reaching their full size before summer. They are usually low- to medium-sized plants and most are evergreen. Some may actually brown out in hot summers. Clipping or mowing in July right after their bloom cycle encourages lush regrowth for fall.

•Warm-Season Grasses: These begin growing in late spring, flower, and set seed in late summer or fall, and often provide great fall color. They should be pruned back in late February or early March. The single most-important maintenance rule for growing healthy, attractive grasses is to cut foliage back at least once a year. Cut back grasses just as new growth appears. For most grasses that is in early spring. Warm-season grasses are generally cut to within a few inches of the ground. Cool-season grasses are usually trimmed down to two-thirds of their full size. Ornamental grasses can fill difficult garden niches. Many species are drought tolerant and will thrive on neglect, once established. Conversely, there are several varieties that do well in damp or boggy soils – some types even thrive in standing water. There are grasses for full sun or dense shade, clay or sandy conditions, and acid or alkaline soils. If you have yet to garden with ornamental grasses, hopefully you will give them a try this summer and fall.

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached at info@sunnysidenursery.net

More in Business

Life’s a holiday on Primrose Lane

By Steve Smith There is no doubt that spring has sprung. This… Continue reading

Be sure to be kissed by a rose by growing them correctly

By Steve Smith It’s that time of year when garden centers fill… Continue reading

Vote for your favorites in Marysville and Arlington

What are some of your favorite places in Marysville and Arlington? Through… Continue reading

Roses with roots show that your love will last longer than if they are cut. (Courtesy Photo)
Real Flower Power for Valentine’s Day is a gift with roots

By Steve Smith Traditionally speaking, Valentine’s Day is the “Christmas” season for… Continue reading

Gardeners can have a berry good time growing them in the NW

By Steve Smith It should be no surprise that our Northwest climate… Continue reading

Business briefly

Tribal purchase TULALIP – The Tulalip tribe recently acquired a seafood processing… Continue reading

It’s time to get down and dirty in the garden again

By Steve Smith Let’s face it, compared to other regions of our… Continue reading

PNW company buys Marysville Ford

MARYSVILLE – Kendall Automotive Group Inc. has acquired Marysville Ford and Marysville… Continue reading

Bare-root fruit trees. (Courtesy Photos)
Now, yes now, is the time to start thinking about fruit trees

By Steve Smith Believe it or not, by the end of this… Continue reading

Tips on getting garden ready for arctic blast 

By Steve Smith It looks like the next couple of weeks are… Continue reading

Vertical gardens, such as these strawberries, make good use of little space. (Courtesy Photos)
Garden trends for 2020 similar to last 5 years

By Steve Smith I have spent countless hours researching “trends for 2020”… Continue reading

Lemon tree very pretty. (Courtesy Photo)
Citrus can be grown in the Northwest

By Steve Smith We live in a horticultural paradise. There is very… Continue reading