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What you need to know about ornamental grass.
Ornamental grasses are categorized as either cool-season or warm-season, with either running or clumping growth habits.
Cool-season: Grows best at temperatures from 15 to 24°C. New growth begins as soon as temperatures rise above freezing in spring. Growth slows and flowers bloom by early summer.
Warm-season: Grows best at temperatures from 26 to 35°C. New growth begins after soil warms up to 16°C. Growth slows and flowers begin by midsummer, continuing through fall.
Running growth habit: Ranging from slow creepers to aggressive spreaders, running grasses are useful for erosion control on slopes or as ground cover.
Clumping growth habit: These grasses grow in tufts. They make fine specimens and are also effective planted in groups or masses. Most ornamental grasses used in the garden are clump-forming.
Description: Fine-textured, light-green foliage grows to 20 centimetres. Comb-like inflorescences emerge silvery white in June and turn purplish as they mature through September. Uses: Stunning in groups or masses, as a specimen, in rock gardens or as a lawn substitute. Heat tolerance makes this an excellent grass for the Interior. Preferences: Full sun. Loamy or sandy soil. Will tolerate moderately acid or dry soils, as well as extreme cold and heat. To Zone 3.
Description: Rich green, shiny foliage up to two metres tall and half a metre wide, gives rise to upright, feathery panicles in June that can reach 2.5 metres. Uses: Wonderfully versatile in the landscape. As a specimen, a backdrop or in masses, this grass adds tremendous vertical accent and movement to the garden. Preferences: Full sun. Well-drained, fertile soil. Will tolerate a wide range of soil types, including dry soils and heavy clay. To Zone 4.
Description: Exotic foliage resembles palm fronds. Fine leaves radiate from arching culms up to a metre in length. Inconspicuous brown flowers June through September. Uses: An excellent ground cover or mass planting for moist areas. Affords erosion control for moist banks. Showy in containers and water gardens. Preferences: Shade or sun. Moist to wet soil. Needs constant moisture in hot, dry conditions. Will grow in water up to 10 centimetres deep. To Zone 2.
Description: Light-green, bamboo-like foliage on stems reaching one metre high. Decorative, drooping inflorescences start out green in June and mature to copper through September. Uses: A lovely flowering accent for shady and damp spots. Effective en masse in containers. This salt-tolerant grass is an excellent choice for coastal gardens. Preferences: Full sun or shade (shade in hot climates). Deep, rich soil. Will tolerate a variety of soil conditions with ample moisture. To Zone 3.
Description: Handsome, bright blue foliage. Dense, sharply pointed leaves reach 60 centimetres tall and wide. Attractive flowers June through August emerge bluish-white and dry to a golden-straw colour. Uses: A lovely accent in borders and rock gardens, planted alone or in masses. Give it ample space in mass plantings. Preferences: Full sun or light shade. Well-drained, fertile soil. Will tolerate a range of soils with good drainage. To Zone 4.
Description: These are considered among the most ornamental of all the grasses. Varieties range in height from one to three metres, offering a wide spectrum of size and colour in both foliage and flowers. Noteworthy cultivars include: ‘Gracillimus,’ ‘Purpurascens,’ ‘Sarabande,’ ‘Strictus’ and ‘Variegatus.’ Uses: Ideal for large-scale landscaping. Highly effective as a tall background, screen or hedge, by water’s edge or in water gardens. Preferences: Full sun. Moist, fertile soil. Requires ample moisture in hot, dry conditions. To Zone 5.
Description: Glossy, bright-green foliage reaches 90 centimetres tall and wide. Showy, bottlebrush inflorescences on slightly arching stems emerge cream to tan in August and mature to reddish-brown through September. Seed-heads add interest well into winter. ‘Hameln’ is a popular cultivar. Uses: Effective in mass plantings or as a specimen. This fine candidate for the mid- to back of the border provides interest long after many garden blooms have quit. Preferences: Full sun or light shade. Moist, well-drained soil. Will tolerate a wide range of soils with good drainage. Protect from severe cold in winter. To Zone 5.
Description: This spectacular flowering grass features open, oat-like flower spikes up to 2.2 metres tall, held high over dense, evergreen clumps of arching, grey-green foliage. Flowers in May, with showy, spent flower stalks persisting into fall. Uses: An indispensable specimen or tall flowering accent whose height can be used to striking effect in the perennial border. Preferences: Full sun. Fertile, well-drained soil. Interior gardeners should grow this grass in a sunny, protected site or provide winter protection. To Zone 6.