Grasses Are a Gas!

Try planting one of these attractive ornamental grasses in your garden.

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Fountain Grass 'Fireworks'

Fountain Grass 'Fireworks'

Purple fountain grass lends a graceful accent to gardens. 

Purple fountain grass lends a graceful accent to gardens. 

Few plants are more elegant than ornamental grasses.

Not too long ago limited in the nursery trade to only pampas grass—that ubiquitous behemoth marking entrances to nearly every subdivision, hospital and shopping center in America—today’s grasses run the gamut from annuals to perennials, towering to petite, apple green to brilliant red.

Ornamental grasses can be substituted for shrubs, used as accents, grouped for screens or highlighted as specimens.

Best planted in spring or summer in mostly sun, these carefree grasses, in general, emerge in early spring as new growth from their winter-browned clumps, putting out upright and arching leaves. By mid- to late summer, most plants send up sturdy stems that eventually form seed heads in a variety of forms, such as plumes and tufts.  Many are drought tolerant and require very little maintenance other than heavy pruning (to 6 to 12 inches) in late winter to control size and encourage healthy new growth. Overgrown plants also can be divided at this time.

Here are just a half-dozen of the many options to consider:

‘Prince’ Purple Fountain Grass, Pennisetum purpureum: This warm-season grass should be treated as an annual in most regions, hardy only to zones 8-11. Its purple foliage becomes fuller and an even deeper shade as summer gets hotter, unlike most plants that fade in the heat. It grows 5 to 6 feet tall and blooms in warm climates in mid-summer. Its cousin cultivar, ‘Princess’, holds its color even longer into fall because it’s a non-flowering variety.

‘Gold Breeze’ Miscanthus, Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gold Breeze’: Miscanthus offers a wide variety of selections, and this one, which grows to 6 feet, is unique for its horizontally-striped leaves. The light green blades of this evergreen grass feature bands of golden yellow bars, and in late summer elegant, feathery gold plumes emerge.

Pink Muhly Grass, MuhlenbergiaWhat’s better than a showstopper? One that performs in late summer as the garden’s fading! This hardy native grass, which is heat- and drought tolerant, features finely cut light green blades that form a fountain shape growing only 4 feet tall. But its selling point emerges in late summer when it shoots up tons of giant puffballs that are cotton-candy pink. If you have the space, plant this grass in multiples for an ethereal meadow-like effect.

‘Everillo’ Golden Perennial Sedge: One of the most exciting new additions for the shade garden, this ornamental grass reaches only about a foot but sports bright golden evergreen foliage that enjoys morning sun and light afternoon shade. 'Everillo' forms the perfect complement to hostas and ferns, and also makes a great container garden companion to blooming plants.

‘Burgundy Bunny’ Fountain Grass, Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Burgundy Bunny’: This dwarf fountain grass reaches 12 to 18 inches and sports both purplish-red and green foliage all summer before it turns a blazing scarlet in autumn. In late summer, it send ups dainty tan “bunny tail” blooms. Great for small spaces.

Zebra Maiden Grass, Miscanthus sinensisAn upright, vase-shaped plant gracefully growing 4 to 6 feet with arching blades, this maiden grass is prized for its distinctive horizontal cream stripes on silvery green foliage. In fall, it puts out pinkish-copper tufts that sway elegantly in the breeze.

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