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Ornamental Grasses - How to Select, Plant, Grow & Maintain

Ornamental Grasses - How to Select, Plant, Grow & Maintain

Ornamental grasses add a distinct look in any landscape. The grass family is diverse, and is comprised of various sizes, bloom times, flowering times as well as preferences for sun or shady locations. Most are hardy perennials that provide multi-season interest, and low maintenance.  
Grasses are versatile, and can add both privacy, and a wonderful texture to your garden.  Many perennials, such as KnockOut roses, perovskia, hydrangea and rudbeckia, combine well with ornamental grasses, and create fantastic combinations for your garden.  There are several factors to consider before selecting which type of grass will be a great fit in your garden, so it is best to do a little research first.

Cool season grasses
Temperature is what causes ornamental grasses to grow. Some prefer the cool weather of early spring.  These plants do better when given enough water during the warm seasons.  If they are not properly watered, they will turn brown, and begin a dormant phase.  They also tend to have better foliage quality when the temperatures are cool.  If they aren't divided frequently, cool season grasses tend to die out in the center. 
Maintenance: The semi-evergreen varieties should only have the brown foliage cut off in the spring.  View all our Ornamental Grasses for Shade
Warm season grasses Warm season grasses begin to show growth once the weather becomes stable, and the ground warms; and do well when the temperature is high, and moisture is limited. In the spring, you should cut off the brown foliage down to anywhere between 4-12 inches.  Division is not required as frequently with these varieties. 
Browse all of our Ornamental Grasses
Ornamental grass growth habits
Grasses can either be rhizome forming, or clump forming.  Rhizome forming grasses can be very invasive, because they spread by underground stems.  It is best to understand how the grass grows so you don't end up planting a future problem. 
Clump grasses grow in nice neat mounds.  They don't become invasive, and work well with other perennials.  Some of our most popular selections include: Festuca Boulder Blue, Hakonechloa All Gold, Pennisetum alopecuroides, Miscanthus Variegatus, Carex Evergold,  Muhlenbergia capillaris,  and Miscanthus Morning Light.

Care and maintenance for ornamental grasses
Small amounts of fertilizer are needed.  Too much fertilizer will increase the nitrogen level, and that can lead to lodging, or flopping over.   The best time for applying fertilizer is in the spring, just as growth is resuming. About one -quarter cup, per clump, of a 10-10-10 slow release fertilizer is enough to take care of the plant needs throughout the entire summer.  For best results, make sure you thoroughly water in the fertilizer.
It is important to make sure the grasses are well watered the first season. This will help the root system to develop.  From the second season on, they should only need watering during the dry periods.  The grass species and location will determine how much additional water is needed.
Weed Control
The best way to control weeds is to place mulch around the grasses.  This will reduce the amount of water needed, and deter highly reseeding types.
Winter Protection and Spring Clean Up
Grasses are very attractive when left standing over the winter.  This also helps to insulate the crown of the plant.  In the spring, before growth begins, cut down foliage to about 6-12 inches above ground. If you are cutting back tall stalks of Miscanthus, we prefer to cut down 1/2 the amount first which makes handling the stalks more manageable, then cut back to about 6-12 inches above the ground.  Old foliage left on the plant can delay the new growth by as much as three weeks.
Spacing and visual appearance of the plants are factors in division, as well as the health of the plant.  Division should be done in the early spring before growth resumes.  Make sure you divide any plants with die-out in the center.
How to plant ornamental grasses
The secret to growing the best perennials starts with good soil preparation. To insure success, plants must have good drainage, adequate nutrients, and available water at all times. Organic matter such as peat moss, compost or aged manure will help improve drainage of heavy clay, and help sandy soil hold moisture longer.

Ideally the preparation for the planting areas should begin in the fall.  Start with a deep tilling of the soil.  This will allow the freezing and thawing during the winter months to improve the workability of the soil.  If this isn't possible, tilling in the early spring will help the plants as well.  Then add organic matter - remember only about one-quarter cup for each plant.
Ornamental grasses can be planted in either the spring, or fall. Planting earlier in the year will allow the grasses more time to establish a good root system before going dormant.  Planting in the fall should be completed so the plants have 4-5 weeks of growing time to establish their roots before the serious cold weather arrives, and the ground freezes.  Then apply a light cover of straw, or hay for insulation.
Plants should be planted only as deep as they were previously in their pots when you receive them.  Make sure they are well watered after planting.  A uniform soil moisture around the grass will help it become established in the soil.  If planted too deeply, they may simply rot in the ground.

Ornamental grasses are both beautiful, and practical.  They add depth and character to your gardening, while requiring little maintenance.  Most varieties are deer resistant, and provide interest for all four seasons. We like them because they are simple way to transform your garden into something extraordinary.