Growing Ornamental Grasses

Grasses can be found in the polar regions to the hottest deserts on the planet. Surely there is a place for them in your garden. On the other end of the maintenance spectrum from the stuff you find yourself mowing every weekend, ornamental grasses will reward throughout the year with very little attention.

Ranging is size for less than a foot to over 10 feet, grasses play many roles from architectural element to backdrop for colorful flowers to the plant that will grow in that horrible soil on the washed out hillside. They provide interest all season - from the deep greens of spring and summer to the subtle bronze and reds of autumn. Left to stand through the winter, they provide a focal point in the winter landscape as well as food and protection for wildlife. Plus dried grasses make great additions to winter bouquets and arrangements.

Our grasses are listed under their genus or go to
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Planting and Cultural Requirements

Although a few tolerate shade or wet soils most grasses require full sun and good drainage. Incorporate organic matter into the root zone to improve water-holding capacity and oxygen levels. If watered regularly, you can plant container grown ornamental grasses throughout the summer. Plant bare roots or divisions in the spring. Until a mature root system develops, newly planted grasses require a moist root zone. Be careful not to over water.

Pay particular attention to the final size of the variety you are planting. Though true in all planting, ornamental grasses can surprise you as to just how big they get. They not only often have a wide girth but also arch or droop outward expanding their area of influence even further.

Maintenance

In contrast to other flowering perennials, ornamental grasses require minimum maintenance and most species are both insect and disease resistant. However, improperly sited plants may become diseased because of poor air movement, high nitrogen soils or inadequate light.

Plant division depends on the spacing and visual appearance you desire and your need for additional plants - it is seldom necessary for the health of the plant. If the center of the clump shows little or no growth, the plant should be divided. Separate and replant the vigorous growth on the outer edge of the clump and discard the center section. In general, fall planting and division is discouraged.

Fertilization

Before you plant in a new site, test the soil. If your soil needs phosphorous, potassium, calcium or sulfur, incorporate them thoroughly into the future root zone before planting. These nutrients move into the root zone very slowly if applied only to the soil surface.

Use foliar appearance as a guide to nitrogen requirements. To prevent lodging, flopping or the need for staking, keep soil nitrogen levels low. However, if the leaf blade isn't a normal green color, nitrogen or a micronutrient may be needed. Unsatisfactory foliar color could also indicate low soil oxygen levels, inadequate drainage or excess watering.

Winter Preparation

Adapted ornamental grasses don't require winter mulch. Leaving the foliage on the plant provides some crown protection and wildlife habitat Fall planted grasses and less hardy grasses may require additional mulching.

Preparation for Growing Season

In early spring before new growth begins, remove the previous year's foliage. You can use hand clippers or a mechanical weed whip. Do not cut flush with the ground. It is best to leave about 6" of old growth. Grasses will begin growing earlier if foliage is removed. Also, the plant is more attractive when dead foliage is not interspersed with living tissue.

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