GRASSES PART II
In Part I about
grasses, I wrote about red grass (Japanese
Blood Grass) and now it’s ‘Black Mondo Grass’ (Ophiopsogon
nigresscens). It is a clump grass only about 12 inches high and very
dark. I first tried it
about three years ago. It is not supposed to be hardy in zone 5 but each
fall I pour compost over it and each spring it comes up with a few
runners on each side. Sometimes
it is called ‘Black Dragon’ (arabicus)
or ‘Ebony Knight’. It
makes a nice edging along a path. While
talking about colors, try ‘Elijah Blue Fescue’ (Festuca
clauca). It grows in clumps about eight inches high. I had it
planted for years in my gray garden in the parkway but this last wet
spring it developed root rot in a spot that held water.
There will be new ones this spring on the high side of the
parkway plus I plan to dig gravel in deep to help drainage.
like a damp soil and my favorite in this category is ‘Karl Foerster’
(Calamagrostis) or ‘Feather
Reed Grass’. It has many common names. Calamagrostis acutiflora has pinkish brown blooms. In my garden it
is the earliest to bloom. Depending
upon the soil it will grow 2 feet to 5 feet tall and the clump widens
very slowly. My clumps have
been in place over ten years and now the centers are getting thin from
crowding. Dividing day is coming up. This is what you have to do with
almost all ornamental grasses. The center dies out as the clump enlarges
and shades the center. Dig up the clump, divide, and then replant. You
can also just take a sharp spade and remove one-third to one-half of the
clump. George has to jump up and down on the spade to divide some of his
grasses. ‘Karl Foerster’ is not as bad as some of the Miscanthus’.
Fill in the hole.
blooms on the ‘Karl Foerster’ remain wheat colored all summer and
winter if you leave it standing. Behind
my clump I have the very tall red leaved castor bean with its bright
reddish, orange spring clusters of seed pods.
It can be 10 feet tall in a good, wet, sunny summer.
favorite of mine is about 3 to 4 feet high and the clumps are about 3
feet wide. It is the
‘Sand Love Grass’ (Eragrostis
trichodes). ‘Sand Love Grass’ does not like wet feet during
winter so needs to be planted a little high. Its main beauty is the
many, many thin stems with small flat spikelets that wave in the wind.
If you can find a spot that the setting sun shines through those
heads, nothing can be more gorgeous.
Those thin stems make beautiful winter bouquets.
I have seen them spray painted silver as a background for colors
such as ‘Red Cockscomb’ (Celosia)
or just in a silver bouquet with ‘Canadian Oats’ that also shimmer.
Each clump never gets huge but there will be a number of seedlings to
come up for you to give away.
The next one is
a “love or hate” grass. Of
all my grasses it is probably the most aggressive so to keep it under
control it is between a cement sidewalk and the west side of a brick
garage. The afternoon sun
in July and August plus the bricks absorbing heat make it almost
impossible for anything to grow there.
But ‘Ribbon Grass’ (Phalaris
arundinacea), does well with a little water. This is also known as
Gardeners Garters and Canary Reed Grass. It also can be controlled by
planting in a container, making a background for any flower.
To slow it down a little, I mow it about the middle of June. With
the mowing I never have trouble with seeding. By September it is back up
to 3 feet and looking good with its light green leaves and a white
stripe down the center. A clump can spread by rhizomes so if someone
needs a plant, it is simple to slice off a chunk with a spade, and a new
plant is born.
One of the fun
grasses for kids is an annual, ‘Little Bunny’ or ‘Bunny Tails’ (Lagurus
ovatus). You can find seed in most catalogs and your bunnies will
get their downy 2 inch flower heads on 12 to 18 inch stems.
It is drouth tolerant, likes sandy soil, and the tails can be
dyed to put in any winter arrangements. When your seed comes up, give
each plant about six inches. They
look good at the edge of a container garden.
When I first
started writing about grass I made a list and found I had 23 different
species of grasses. The new
one I am going to try this summer is not listed as hardy for Lincoln and
Central Nebraska, but I must see this ‘Purple Muhly Grass’ (Muhlenbergia
filipes). I have never seen it, but the seed heads (panicles) are
listed as “clouds of purple”. It is a native of Southeastern United
States. It is to be grown in sandy or rocky soil in full sun, preferably
in a mass of several plants. Our summer may be too short for it to be a big success but I
intend to try!
fun. Be sure and try some in your garden.
information about “Ornamental Grasses” see NEBGUIDE G96-1310-a
(Ornamental Grasses in Nebraska Landscapes). This is available from your
local County Extension office or go on the internet to
In the top box scroll down to “Extension” then in the search box
type in “Ornamental Grasses” or the publication number. This is an
excellent web site for all your garden problems. Find answers to your
questions and get information about any perennial, annual, tree, shrub,
fruits, or preserving your harvest.
website for information is from Iowa State University. Go to www.ipm.iastate.edu/ipm/hortnews.
Type in the name grass or just “Ornamental Grass” or the tree,
shrub, fruits, flower, insect, or disease. A list of articles will come
up that will help you be a better gardener.