Grasses are the Grande Dames of Fall

By Kerry Ann Mendez

Ornamental grasses are the "grande dames" in the fall garden. Their dramatic plumes dance in the autumn breeze and are especially breathtaking when backlit by afternoon sun.

So Many Choices!

Grasses come in a range of heights, colors, blade widths and stature. Mature heights can be as petite as 6" (Black Mondo Grass) or soar to 10' or more (Japanese Silver Grass). Blade colors can be shades of green as well as blue, yellow, black, burgundy-red or bi-color. Some grasses have extremely narrow blades (Miscanthus 'Gracillimus') while others have wider girths of up to an inch (Panicum 'Dallas Blues'). Their "postures" can be narrow and upright, (Calamagrostis 'Karl Foerster'), short and spiky (Blue Fescue 'Elijah Blue'), vase-shaped (Miscanthus 'Morning Light') or mounded/cascading (Japanese Forest Grass).

Cool or Warm?

Ornamental grasses fall into two categories as far as flowering time. Cool season grasses bloom in early to midsummer. Examples in this group are Blue Fescue and Blue Oat Grass. Warm season grasses are prized for their showy fall displays. Switch Grass (Panicum), Fountain Grass (Pennisetum), Prairie Dropseed (Sporobalis), and Maiden Grass (Miscanthus) are popular picks. Bloom colors can be white, cream, rose, tan or pink.

Winter Interest

Grasses provide wonderful winter interest as well if you leave them be in the fall. You may want to stake larger grasses so they keep "good posture" in winter after heavy snow. Prune the foliage to within 2-3" of the ground in late winter or early spring. Use a power hedge trimmer or sharp pruning shears for larger grasses. To save time raking up blades, place twine, bungee cord or duct tape around the plant's "waist" before whacking. Some grasses have razor-sharp blades so use protective gloves when handling them. Shorter grasses like Blue Fescues can be "deadleafed" by simply running your fingers through the clump and pulling out brown foliage.

Shop Now!

Check out the great assortment of ornamental grasses that Estabrook's offers, including many native varieties (Switch Grass, Little and Big Blue Stem, Prairie Dropseed, Tufted Hair Grass, and Feather Reed Grass). If you are looking for low-maintenance, high return perennials for year-round interest, then ornamental grasses will sweep you off your feet!