It seems that the latest thing in gardening is ornamental grass. Bunkey, for one, can’t understand that as he is constantly digging the darn stuff out of his gardens. There are places in the landscape where an ornamental, flowering grass is just the accent you want. Grasses add movement to the landscape as they sway in the breeze. The biggest problem with them is that they tend to be quite large and need space. They need to be able to move easily and won’t if stuck in the middle of a crowd of plants. So, now that you have determined that you have the perfect place for a clump of grass, let’s look at what is available. These are all perennials.
If you want a yellow flowering grass look for “Karl Forster Feather Reed” grass. The grass is about 3 feet high and the feathery inflorescences (well you can’t call them flowers) get 5 to 6 feet tall. They start out purple and turn “wheat colored” toward fall. This is one that stays upright all winter, so you have the added attraction of it all winter. It is noninvasive.
A large flowering grass is “Huron Sunrise Maiden Grass.” This girl gets 3 feet wide and 5 to 6 feet tall. The arching green leaves have a silvery midrib. She has burgundy flowers that stand upright and is deer resistant. Resistant means they will eat everything else before they eat this plant.
If you like the plumey types, “Korean Feather Reed Grass” is the one to look for. This is an Asian grass and other Asian plants and trees have proved to be more than hardy here, actually crowding out some of our natives. This plant is listed as quite adaptable so be cautious. This pretty grass will grow in part shade, but the plumes won’t be as tight and fewer. In full sun her leaves will be about 3 feet by 3 feet, the pink tinted plumes another foot above them.
If you would like a plant to cover up that big gas tank, your garbage cans, that neighbor’s collection of car parts or your outdoor toilet (if you are tired of holly hocks for the toilet), there is a grass for that. “Heavy Metal Blue Switchgrass” gets 5 to 6 feet tall. It is described as having rigid metallic blue-green leaves. In late summer it blooms in delicate pink panicles that dance above the foliage and sway in the breeze. This grass turns yellow in the fall and will withstand wind and snow.
If you need a round shape for an accent, “Blue Whiskers Fescue Grass” is just the plant. It is taller than Elijah blue, more vigorous, and brighter blue. It is a foot tall and about 28 inches wide. In early summer, yellow-green inflorescences pop up well above the foliage. It looks like a prickly powder puff.
Then there are the switch grasses. “Hot Rod” turns from blue to red faster and earlier than other switch grasses. The color intensifies throughout the summer until the whole plant turns a dark maroon. This 3-foot native cultivar has fluffy and airy red flower panicles in late summer. Its sister “Shenandoah Red,” turns from a spring blue green to a summer dark red and wine red in the fall. The reddish-purple flower heads pop up in midsummer. The seed heads are silver in the fall. This one can grow to 5 feet tall and 3 feet wide. Add it in front of the “Heavy Metal Switch” grass and you will really have a hedge. Multicolored too.
Bev Johnson is a Master Gardener with the University of Minnesota Extension. Her column appears in the Weekend Edition.