The Q&A Archives: Ornamental Grasses

Question: I am looking for a ornamental grass (Perennial) for the front of our house which faces North but does get East and West sun. I want something that will look good in the winter to. Something that rustles in the wind.

Answer: Your zip code places you in winter hardiness zone 5A, which depending on your microclimate mgiht actually be as cold as zone 4. While there are a number of grasses that are hardy to that zone, they really need full sun all day or for a minimum of six hours to stay healthy and grow robustly. So I am not sure this would be the best choice for a shady foundation on the north side. If you could plant it further out from the house where it would receive more sun, it would be a lot better for the plant. In too much shade they grow thin and sparse and may not bloom so you will not have the decorative seedheads.

They all rustle in the wind, so that requirement is easily met. Looking good in the winter however is another story. The grasses bloom in fall and some people like how their dried foliage and seedheads look during the winter, but in a heavy snow area these tend to quickly collapse, break down and fall over and look very untidy. For this reason many gardeners trim them off short in late fall. This means they have virtually no ornamental effect for the winter. They are routinely cut back in either late fall or early spring in any case, then regrow completely each summer.

If you still think you want to try a grass, your local professional nursery staff should be able to show you some, but again, the more sun they get the better. I'm sorry I can't be more encouraging but I hope this answers your question.

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