I don’t own a lawnmower because I have no grass to mow. As I have stated many times, I am not one of those individuals who likes vast swaths of boring green lawns that take lots of water, herbicides, and fertilizers to maintain. However, I am a fan of ornamental grasses in the garden. Grasses and grass-like plants come in many sizes, colors, and shapes and add year-round interest to your property.
One of my favorite grasses is Northern Sea Oates ( Chasmanthium latifolium) that has bamboo-like foliage and grows two to three feet tall and will do well in light shade. It produces green seeds that resemble oat seed heads that turn a bronzy brown in the winter. The flat seed heads add drama to the garden fluttering and dancing about in the wind. There is also a rare, less aggressive, variegated version. Sea Oates spread, but are easily controlled by pulling up unwanted plants and sharing with friends.
Several years ago I gave my neighbor a grass as a birthday gift, and she fell in love with the Pink Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris.) The four-foot grass with thin narrow blades is unremarkable until it blooms in late summer and fall, producing sprays of wispy pinkish flowers resembling a pink cloud floating above the leaves.
If you want something more exciting than green blades of grass, there are several ornamental grasses that have striped or variegated foliage. Zebra Grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebinus’ ) has fascinating graceful green and yellow variegated blades. Zebra Grass grows five to eight feet tall and in late summer/fall produces flower panicles that turn a nice beige color by mid-autumn lasting through the winter. Porcupine Grass is very similar to Zebra Grass, but has wider yellow horizontal stripes and grows more upright.
If you really want to make a statement, there are grasses that grow eight to ten feet or taller! The giant Reed Grass (Arundo donax l.) can grow upwards to twenty feet tall with flower spikes of five feet! The corn-like grass can also be found with variegated leaves. Another favorite is Pampas Grass (Cortaderia selloana) growing up to 10 feet tall with large fluffy white or pink flower heads. Native Ravenna Grass (Saccharum ravenna) shoots upwards to 10 to 15 feet tall and does well in dry to poor soil. In late summer it produces brownish purple flower heads, turning to silver during the winter months.
Bamboo is also considered a grass and there are many varieties that are hardy in Ohio. Bamboo gives the garden an exotic tropical feel. Bamboo typically grows in two forms, clumps, or running bamboo. Be very careful with planting running bamboo because in a short time it could literally take over a neighborhood. Once in German Village I saw a running bamboo that had gotten out of control and had spread out of the garden, growing up between the bricks in the street. I am fond of the Golden Grove bamboo. I made the mistake of planting it directly in my garden and within a few years, it was out of control. I spent most of a summer digging it out. Eventually, I buried a thick plastic tub and planted the bamboo inside, so it could not escape!
A great ornamental grass for shade is the Japanese Forest Grass or the Hakonechloa grasses. These smaller weeping grasses have beautiful variegated leaves of gold and yellow and do well in partial shade and look great planted along with hosta. Ribbon Grass (Phalaris arundinacea ) is a smaller spreading grass with bold green and white striped leaves. It is best to plant this grass in a place where you can allow it to spread and choke out weeds. Lirope musicari is not really a grass but has short green leaves that are often variegated and produce tufts of white or purple flowers during the summer. Another favorite of mine is the grass-like, short leafed, dark purple Black Mondo Grass. (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’) It stays dark all year and in the summer produces small lavender flowers followed by purple berries.
In addition to the plants above, there are many varieties of grasses available. When the garden catalogs begin to pile up in your mailbox, give the ornamental grasses a second look, think about tossing out the lawnmower and replace the boring green lawns with something new and exciting!
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If you have any gardening questions you would like to ask Rick or topics you would love to see him cover please feel free to drop him a note and ASK THE GARDENER here.