Grasses have usually been known to be used in fields or the lawns. Now grasses have also found a place in our landscapes, offering graceful lines and textures, sound, movement, easy maintenance and color in summer, fall and winter. Any grass grown strictly for its ornamental value (not as turf) can be called an ornamental grass. While our climate may keep us from growing some varieties, we can still choose various sizes, colors, blooms, textures and forms, and the best part is, they are very easy to maintain. Many gardeners are intrigued by ornamental grasses, but haven’t seen enough of them to know what they will look like throughout the season. We are very fortunate to have an excellent collection of grasses growing in landscape settings. McShane’s Nursery and Landscape Supply will be glad to provide you with complete information on any variety of ornamental grass so that you can make the right choice for your situation.

Are all ornamental grasses perennial? Most of the grasses we grow are perennial. There are annual and perennial varieties that are grown as annuals however. Some of the more interesting marginally hardy perennial varieties can be grown successfully with extra protection.

Can’t ornamental grasses become invasive in the garden? While most hardy varieties are clump grasses, (not runners) there are a few that can become a problem. Ribbon grass (Phalaris a. ‘Picta’) and Chinese Silver grass (Miscanthus sacchariflorus) have become invasive in our area. On the other hand, there are circumstances where their invasive quality might help stabilize an erosion problem.

Will these grasses fit into different styles of landscaping? The varieties you choose and where you site them can produce va stly different styles. A neat, compact border of Blue Fescue (Festuca glauca) or a stately clump of Silver Spike grass (Spodiopogon) would compliment the most formal landscaping. The looser, more natural forms of Hair grass (Koeleria) or Big Bluestem (Andropogon) would enhance an informal garden.

Is a sunny location essential, or are there any shade-tolerant ornamental grasses?
Sedges (Carex), Hakone grass (Hakonechloa), Bottlebrush (Hystrix), Rush (Juncus), and Woodrushes (Luzula) are a few grasses (or grass-like plants) that will “tolerate” shade. Tufted Hairgrass is probably the only grass that will grow as well in sun or shade.
Which varieties are best for fall and winter interest? The Miscanthus varieties are beautiful in the fall. There is a Panicum called ‘Rostrahlbusch’ which has red fall foliage and flowers that turn tan for the winter. Silver Spikegrass has a great bronze color in fall. Little Bluestem is beautiful all winter: left standing, most ornamental grasses have winter interest, providing movement and sound as the wind eases through their foliage.

How do I plant and care for these grasses? Ornamental grasses are extremely easy to plant and grow.
 Simply slip them out of the container in which they are growing and plant them at the same level in the ground. Grasses are tolerant of most soil conditions and they benefit from mulch. If you have a wet area, most varieties of Miscanthus sinensis will do well, as will Rush (Juncus), Swee t Flag (Acorus), Switchgrass (Panicum) and Ribbongrass (Phalaris). During their first growing season, feed them with a balanced fertilizer. Ornamental grasses are undoubtedly one of the easiest types of plants to grow.

How should I care for them in winter? 
For plants that are established you don’t have to do anything for winter. Most people leave the foliage on the plants to add winter interest. If your grasses are newly planted, cut them back to 3-4 inches in late fall and mulch them heavily to help them through their first winter.

Can I do anything to make the marginal varieties more likely to winter successfully? To give marginal varieties an edge, plant them early in the season and mulch for the winter. Research has shown the marginal grasses are more likely to winter successfully if they are not cut back until the following spring.

When choosing an ornamental grass, you want to find a grass that is specifically hardy for your environment. All grasses sold at McShane’s Nursery and Landscape Supply are hardy grasses for this area but to find exactly what will grow best in your landscape just ask!