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. 

          Some grasses 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.

          The feathery 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.

          Another 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!

          Grasses are fun. Be sure and try some in your garden.


          For more 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.

          Another good website for information is from Iowa State University. Go to 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.