Gardening Help FAQs

Here are answers to some of the most common questions we receive about garden plants. You will find concise information on general gardening techniques as well as plant selection and care. For detailed information on specific plant pests and problems refer to our Common Garden Pests and Problems page.

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Horticulture Questions and Answers

Can you recommend some good ornamental grasses?

Ornamental grasses are valuable for their form, texture, color, motion and winter interest in the garden. They perform well in the border, as edging or a background plant in flower beds, and complement other herbaceous perennials in the garden. Many of the smaller species make excellent additions to the rock garden.

Ornamental grasses require minimal maintenance and are relatively free of insect and disease problems. They are adapted to dry conditions and require little, if any, supplemental fertilization. Two requirements that grasses do have are annual cutting back of old stems to the ground in the spring and division. Clumps should be divided about every three years to prevent them from becoming too dense. This can be done in either fall or spring.

Ornamental grasses are far from just green plants. Many species exist that exhibit beautiful variegation, colorful foliage and seasonal variation. Porcupine grass (Miscanthus sinensis 'Strictus') is a compact five foot grass with yellow banded foliage. Ravenna grass (Saccharum ravennae) will send up 14 foot blue-beige flower plumes. Japanese blood grass (Imperata cylindrica var. koenigii 'Red Baron'), small at only 18 inches, has stunning red and green foliage and deserves a place in the garden as a specimen plant.

Ranging in height from 3-12 feet, grasses add the dimension of depth to the landscape and far surpass shrubs in terms of screening. In combination with trees and shrubs, grasses may be used to create a year round screen and lend a sense of privacy to the garden. Giant reed (Arundo donax) performs wonderfully as a screen growing up to twelve feet in a growing season. Giant miscanthus (Miscanthus 'Giganteus') and giant feather grass (Stipa gigantea) are also exceptional for developing a tall screen. Ravenna grass, feather reed grass (Calamagrostis xacutiflora), fountain grass (Pennisetum spp.) and switch grass (Panicum virgatum) all work well as intermediate screens and are useful for background plantings.

Big (Andropogon gerardii) and little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), bottlebrush grass (Hystrix patula), cord grass (Spartina spp.), side-oats grama (Bouteloua curtiipendula), prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis) and sea-oats (Uniola paniculata) are native grasses that may be planted together to establish a 'natural' landscape and to recreate the tall grass prairie that once so commonly covered the Midwest.

As ornamental plants in the landscape, grasses are a relatively new occurrence but are quickly gaining prominence. Though a wide selection is not readily available at most local nurseries it is well worth the effort to search out specialty nurseries and catalogs to include these marvelous members of the grass family.