Thursday, August 21, 2014

Vertical Amazement

Big Bluestem "Vitman"
Even the smallest gardens can use a little vertical amazement.  Vertical in the form of ornamental grass.

Perennial ornamental grass in Zone 5 (where we live in Illinois) hasn’t had too many new varieties because many can’t take our freezing ground temperatures.  Most of the hardy ones are native to this area.

I have several varieties and I love how they look and perform:
Blue Festuca "Elijah Blue"
Small clumps:
Blue Festuca “Elijah Blue” – 9x10 inches in a soft blue clump.
Japanese Blood Grass “Red Baron” – 18 inches green with deep red stripes and tips.
Tiger Grass – 18 inches – likes to spread.
Blue Dune Grass

Medium clumps:
Little Bluestem “Blaze” – 3 ft. and turns red in the fall.
Little Bluestem “The Blues” – 3 ft. with blue leaves.
Flame Grass “Purpurascens” – 3 ft. with red/orange fall color.
Maiden Grass “Huron Sunrise” – 4 ft. with red seed heads in fall.

Large clumps:
Big Bluestem “Vitman” – 8 ft or more with large seed heads in the fall.
Zebra Grass “Strietus” – 8 ft. – stripes
Japanese Blood Grass "Red Baron"

Crazy Invasive:
Blue Dune Grass – 3 ft. light blue straps – underground runners.  Beautiful and impossible to keep in bounds.  I don’t recommend planting.
Bamboo – Technically not a grass but some people use as grass.  Do not plant or you will regret it to the point of it growing into your house, into your bedroom and overtaking the mattress and eventually covering your spouse who you won’t be able to find and people will suspect foul play.  I’m telling you this because I care.
Zebra Grass

May or may not survive the winter:
 Japanese forest grass “Aureola” – 2 ft. – lime and green strip leaves
Northern Sea Oats – 3 ft. – some consider invasive.
Corkscrew Rush “Spiralis” – 2 ft.  Green leaves that twist.
Giant Reed Grass – 12 ft. – looks like a corn stalk.  Can be invasive under perfect conditions.

The choices are expanding as annual ornamental grass has been embraced for potting.  The sizes, colors, patterns and fall seed heads are just some of the fun attributes.  There are tiny examples for fairy gardens and tall upright for limited space.   Since some are up to 3 ft. tall and wide, they can be interplanted with your perennials. 

Maiden Grass "Huron Sunrise"
Need a backdrop for a beautiful flowering perennial?  Have a bare spot?  Want to draw the eye along a certain path?  Need privacy?  Annual grasses can fill the order.  They come in a variety of prices starting at about $10.  I’ve had pretty good luck over wintering annual grass in my basement. 

Annual grasses can be divided easily.  Perennial grasses take some pretty serious muscle or a backhoe to divide some of the large clumps.  If you don’t want the perennial grass to spread, make sure you either don’t buy any that even hints at “invasive” or plant in pots and treat as an annual.

Annual dwarf "King Tut" grass

Cut the seed head off in the fall for bouquets or leave for bird feed.  Leaving the grasses stand over winter insures a safe and warmer hiding place for several varieties of birds. 

Perennial or annual grass is a great thing to share because it invigorates the clump to have part of the roots dug out.  And in the “yes, it was an odd winter and I’m still finding crazy things” category:  I had three clumps of native “Big Bluestem Vitman”.  One clump almost totally died, one is only about four foot tall and the third doubled in diameter and is over eighteen foot tall.  Now that’s vertical amazement!   
Big Bluestem rockin' fall.
Zebra Grass

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