Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southern Coasts
February, 2001
Regional Report

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The plumes of maiden grass, Miscanthus sinensis 'Gracillimus', make for winter interest in my perennial border.

My Best Grasses

There are three reasons to grow ornamental grasses: They're easy to grow; their shape adds an exuberant element to every garden design; and the plumes can't be beat in winter, in the garden and as cut flowers. My favorite and most reliable ornamental grass is the maiden grass (Miscanthus sinensis).

Easy-Growing Fountains

Pennisetum or fountain grass is another favorite that grows easily with little maintenance. Its summer-blooming pink flowers look like baby bottle brushes. Fountain grass ranges in height from 2 to 6 feet. It is nearly carefree in my gardens. I plant in early spring in a well-drained bed, water sparingly but regularly if it doesn't rain, and fertilize the clumps once a year in March. That's it.

Avoid Pampas Grass

Unless you have a vast space to fill, stay away from classic pampas grass. Although it's the best-known example of the ornamental grasses, pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana) grows to a height of 15 feet, makes an impenetrable clump as big as a small car, and can reseed readily.

If you have the space, though, a female pampas grass features huge, fuzzy, off-white plumes in fall, and its sawtoothed leaves make a great barrier. For smaller gardens, C. s. pumila offers a gray-leaved, 6-foot pampas that doesn't self-sow.

Make More Grass

Your grasses will grow fine if you never even touch them. However, I want lots of maiden grass plumes and always have another place I'd like to plant a grass. Here's what I do. After the plumes have just about lost every wisp on them, I cut the grass down. Hedge shears are good for this. Then I dig up side clumps or the whole plant, depending on how crowded it is. It takes a strong arm to divide maiden grass, and you may have to resort to an axe to break it apart. Trim the top growth on the new clumps to short fans and replant immediately.

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