The Q&A Archives: Plants adaptable to Melbourne, Florida

Question: What ornamental grasses will grow well in Melbourne, Florida. How do they react in the winter there.

Answer: A number of ornamental grasses grow well in Florida. Among them are Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii). Big bluestem is a perennial bunch grass that forms large clumps which expand slowly on short, scaly rhizomes. It normally grows to 5-7 ft (1.5-2.1 m) in height, but under ideal conditions can get more than 10 ft (3.0 m) tall. The habit is fairly upright, and not as arching as some ornamental grasses. Look for the blue color at the base of the stems. The stems and leaves are blue-green in early summer, developing reddish tinges as they mature.

Chasmanthium latifolium (Indian wood-oats, northern sea oats, broadleaf uniola, spangle grass). Indian wood oats looks a little like a small version of sea oats (Uniola paniculata), to which it is closely related - they used to be listed in the same genus. This is a perennial clump-forming grass with wide leaves and lovely nodding clusters of flat, oatlike seedheads. It gets 2-5 ft (0.6-1.5 m) tall and a single clump can spread two or more feet across on its short, stout rhizomes.

Cortaderia selloana (Pampas Grass) Impressive size, graceful aspect, durable toughness, and spectacular flowers all combine to make pampas grass one of the most recognized plants in the landscape. The leaves are narrow, 1/2 to 3/4 in (1.3-1.9 cm) wide, and up to 10 ft (3 m) long. They are arranged in dense fountainlike clumps that are up to 12 ft (3.7 m) high and 6 ft (1.8 m) wide. The real show starts in midsummer when the flowers, spectacular 1 ft (0.3 m) tall white plumes, suddenly erupt above the foliage.

Liriope muscari (liriope, border grass, lily-turf). Liriope, also commonly called border grass is not actually a grass but a member of the lily family, a fact that inspires another of its common names, lilyturf. The dark green, ribbonlike foliage grows in length from 10 to 18 in (25-46 cm) and then recurves toward the ground to form rounded clumps. As the clumps mature they merge into a continuous carpet that resembles a plot of shaggy lawn grass. In summer, spikes of small purple, violet or white flowers rise from the center of clumps. Flowers are followed by pea-sized black or white berries in autumn.

Pennisetum orientale (oriental fountain grass, fountain grass). Oriental fountain grass is an unusually low-growing and compact fountain grass whose gracefully cascading clump of dense foliage rarely gets over 1 ft (0.3 m) tall. It grows in a mound that expands outward slowly from short underground rhizomes. The inflorescence, standing a foot or two above the arching mound of leaves, consists of a plume of pearly white or silvery pink fluff. The showy flowers are carried all summer and autumn.

You may find others at your local nursery.

Best wishes with your landscape!

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