Answer: The term ornamental grass is applied to grasses and grass-like plants that are used chiefly for their beauty. They are a large and complex group of plants with a wide range of growth habits and culture.
In a strict sense, true grasses are members of the Poaceae or grass family. Many other plants that we think of as grasses are actually sedges and rushes ? which belong to different families altogether. But those, along with the true grasses, comprise the bulk of the plants we call ornamental grasses.
Ornamental grasses are truly attractive and not rampantly aggressive. But, like their weedy cousins, they are tough, resilient and susceptible to virtually no insect or disease problems. Ornamental grasses are an excellent choice for gardeners trying to create a landscape that is more self-reliant ? requiring less spraying, fertilization and maintenance.
The strong vertical or fountaining form of many ornamental grasses, combined with their feathery flower heads, makes a unique contribution to the landscape. The leaf blades add fine texture and colors, such as metallic blues, burgundy, white, creamy yellow and every shade of green imaginable.
As grasses grow and seasons change, so does their appearance. The foliage may change color from spring to summer to fall.
Grass foliage also moves in breezes and catches the light like few other plants. And they offer an impressive array of flower plumes and seed heads for interest at various times throughout the year.
Most ornamental grasses grow best in full to part sun, but they are tolerant of a wide range of growing conditions.
If you are planting ornamental grasses into an existing bed, little improvement will be needed. Turn the soil and then incorporate a 2-inch layer of organic matter in the area to be planted. Then be careful to plant the ornamental grass at the same level it was growing in the container and water in well. If you choose to place your pond grass in a shallow pool of water, it will thrive with absolutely no care at all.
Some ornamental grasses are evergreen, but most go dormant for the winter. At some point before the end of February, cut the plants back to within a few inches of the ground (or surface of the pond).
If you're interested in learning more about ornamental grasses, an excellent reference on the subject is Ornamental Grasses for the Southeast by Peter Loewer from Cool Springs Press. This book contains an easy-to-use, A-to-Z format featuring most of the annual and perennial ornamental grass species available in the United States. It?s all illustrated with color photographs, and the book also contains chapters on bamboos, reeds and sedges and other plants that look like grasses.
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