Ornamental grasses provide a broad range of textures, forms, and colors -- and they're low maintenance. The K-State Research and Extension Horticulture Center at Olathe has been field-testing a wide variety of grasses that work well in the home landscape.

Produced by the Department of Communications at Kansas State University. For more information, visit our website at: http://www.kansasgreenyards.org

Ornamental Grasses Come in Lots of Sizes and Shapes

Ornamental grasses are nice for landscapes because they really provide a broad range of textures, forms, and colors. Grasses are a natural form of the prairie. By integrating some of these natural shapes, they’re beautiful additions to home landscapes.

Right here is one of the favorites in our trial. It’s a Switch Grass Shenandoah. It’s a little smaller than some of the switch grasses and grows to about 3-4 feet tall. It has reddish tipped foliage, which is a nice color interest, and it has that color all season – not just the fall or the spring.

This Shenandoah is a cultivar of the native switch grass, so it’s very well adapted for the Kansas prairie conditions. Another interesting grass is Miscanthus sinensis Strictus, or Porcupine Grass. This has variegations horizontally on the leaves, which makes little stripes. It gets fairly tall – about 6 feet once it blooms. Even when it’s not blooming, you’ll have some interest with the horizontal striped texture.

Another kind of variation is vertical variegation on another type of Miscanthus sinensis. This is Silberfeil or Silver Arrow Grass. This has white variegation vertically on the leaves. So, it’s adding some nice color and interest even when it’s not in bloom.

This is another perennial grass; it’s called Blue Dune Lyme Grass. It’s a cool season grass, so it started blooming in June. It’s past its prime now in terms of seed heads, but it still has this spiky, blue foliage.

A word of caution with this grass, however, is that it spreads very fast with rhizomes. This plot here was planted with 5 little plants three years ago, and now we have to actively maintain it to keep it from spreading out of control.

People really need to think about the mature size of these grasses. If you buy something in a gallon pot, you have to realize that in three years it’s going to be a full mature plant. They’re an extremely versatile group of plants, and they’re also low maintenance, meaning that they don’t need much fertilizer, pesticide application, or much supplemental water once they’re established.

This feature story prepared with Robin Dremsa, Kansas State University Research and Extension Center at Olathe. For more information, visit your local county extension office or visit our website at KansasGreenYards.org.

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