Grasses To Ornament The Garden 2.0
In The Garden – By Stephen and Kristin Pategas
Turn to ornamental grasses to please the eye and soothe the soul as they sway in the breeze. Be bold and create sweeping masses instead of planting only one or a handful of plants. Use the fine texture of ornamental grasses to contrast with larger-leaved plants. Combine two or more types of grasses to create a more natural look.
Grasses are available in an assortment of mature heights and spreads. Their foliage comes in a variety of colors and textures from super fine to coarse. Small birds and other wildlife consume the seeds of many grasses, while some are host plants for butterfly larvae.
These grasses are typically deer resistant and grow best in sun. Propagation is typically by seed or division. Ornamental grasses are low maintenance, typically requiring only a once-a-year early spring haircut (about six inches off the ground) if the foliage looks tattered. The resulting new emerging leaves usher in the new growing season and are soon moving in the wind. If there is some old foliage to remove in between trimming sessions, reach into the clump while wearing rubber gloves and stroke the leaves to coax out dead ones. We find the trimmed off and collected leaves are useful as mulch in low visibility areas.
The following are clumping grasses, and they slowly increase in girth by creeping rhizomes. Some self-seed and in our garden, they provide a source for new plants. They all thrive in Central Florida and often beyond.
Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) is native to Southern India and Sri Lanka. The foliage has a lemon scent when bruised. Leaves and stems are used for culinary and medicinal purposes. Grow it in a large container or in the ground where its coarse textural foliage reaches a three to four-foot height and three-foot spread. Plant in full sun and provide moist and well drained soils. Trim it back when the foliage looks tired.
Bamboo muhly grass (Muhlenbergia dumosa) is native from Arizona to southern Mexico, but we first spotted it at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. It has arching stems to five feet in height and can reach six feet or more in spread. The flowers are insignificant but do provide a tan cast over the whole plant for a few weeks in mid-winter. The very narrow leaves and thin clumping stems create the effect of a very finely textured bamboo. It increases in width very slowly by underground rhizomes. It takes dry or moist conditions in well-drained soils. Plant six feet apart in sun to light shade. The bamboo muhly grass hedge in our garden requires almost zero maintenance and did not benefit from being pruned back to the ground years ago as a test. We do trim off the few dead stalks that rise above the billowy foliage that is animated by the slightest breeze. This grass is grown by few wholesale nurseries so please ask garden centers for it, so they promote production.
Hortus Oasis (FL26000315) in Winter Park is a boutique garden design company specializing in residential, commercial and specialty gardens. Stephen is a registered landscape architect and Kristin is a certified landscape designer. Contact them at 407-622-4886/ firstname.lastname@example.org and visit www.houzz.com/pro/hortusoasis/__public.
Credit: All photography by Stephen G. Pategas/Hortus Oasis unless otherwise noted