Grasses are great in a garden, are low maintenance and make a valuable addition to the home gardener. Grasses are divided into cool-season and warm season types. Cool season grasses grow when it cool outside, during the spring and fall and will get their plumes and flowers usually by the end of June. Warm season grasses grow when it’s warm outside, and you will see them start to grow around Memorial Day. They will grow during the heat of the summer and get their flowers and plumes at the end of the summer and into the fall.
It is best to plant grasses in the spring. When spacing give grasses plenty of room, usually the width will equal the height. There are two types, running and clump form. Use caution with running types as they can take over, so read your labels. Most grasses like full sun, but a few varieties will grow in modest shade.
Grasses are great when it comes to maintenance. No extra fertilizer is needed other than good soil. They require no extra watering, except when you first put them in to get them established. Grasses can be cut back in the spring or in the fall. I prefer the spring because I like the winter interest they provide when everything else is done. Also keeping the grass intact helps to protect the crowns from winter winds. Always make sure you cut them back before the new growth begins in the spring. Use sharp shears or hedge clippers. Trim them back 4-6” from the ground making sure not to cut into the crown. Tie the grasses in a clump before cutting and it makes clean-up much easier.
It is usually take 3 years for grasses to mature to their full size, so you do not have to divide them often. As they grow, they spread from the center. You will know it’s time to divide them when the center looks like it has holes in it. Divide grasses in the spring. To divide them, dig up the entire clump and then break it into sections. Toss out the center sections if they have stopped growing. I usually divide grasses at years 4 and 5. This keeps them in the areas I want them to stay and keeps the centers healthy.
My favorite small grasses are Pennisetum alopecuroides fountain grasses, ‘Little Bunny’ and ‘Red Head’ , Festuca glauca ‘Elijah Blue’ and Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’. My favorite medium grasses are Miscanthus ‘Purpurascens’ and Panicum virgatum ‘Heavy Metal , North wind’ and ‘Shenandoah’. My favorite tall grasses are Miscanthus ‘Graziella’ and Gold Band’. These are just a few of the varieties offered in the grass family. There are lots of choices, shapes, colors, textures and sizes. Ornamental grasses will offer you a distinctive landscape look, so plant away.