Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
November, 2000
Regional Report

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The flower heads of ornamental grasses provide interest to the bleak winter landscape.

I Love Ornamental Grasses

"Ornamental" is an understatement when it comes to the large grasses such as Miscanthus. These plants create high drama. The show starts subtly when the earliest leaves emerge through the stubble of last year's growth. All summer they grow, little by little, rustling and whispering in the sun. And then, one day, we realize they have become huge.

The Look of Grasses

In autumn, spear-like flower stems shoot up. Then the flowers open, and soon the seed heads swell into puffy plumes that wave to us on gusty autumn days and shimmer on frosty mornings. The tawny-colored leaves glow in the golden afternoon sunshine. During winter, the weather will beat them down. One day between now and next spring, I'll trim them off short at the ground. Today, though, they look brave and bold.

Planting Ornamental Grasses

I have planted many ornamental grasses over the years. When you plant one of these wonderful grasses, you need to keep in mind its propensity for expansion and allow space for that in your plan. From the tiny plant you set out in spring, a clump-forming grass expands all season to grab a much larger space in the garden. The grasses also increase in girth each year, soon expanding well beyond anything we could have envisioned on planting day. When designing with grasses, consider using annuals around a new grass as a strategy for coping with the grass's mature size. Annuals will give you more flexibility than perennials and will help you avoid having to dig and divide plants only one or two years after planting.

Moving Grasses

It is easier to transplant perennials or replant annuals than it is to transplant a large ornamental grass, but if you need to relocate a large grass, or if an individual plant has begun to flop open due to age and needs to be divided, be ready next spring to bring out the machete, the axe, and the power tools and bring in reinforcements. It's a huge job.

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