ornamental-grassOWENSBORO, Ky. (8/13/14) — When we hear the word “grass,” we think of our lawns and the fact that we have to mow it every week.

But there are grasses to plant not for a lawn, but in the flower garden or as a landscape feature.

These are ornamental grasses and come in many heights and forms. The Western Kentucky Botanical Garden has an area with eight different types of grasses. Miscanthus sinensis ‘Cosmopolitan’ is one of the best variegated miscanthus. It has a wider leaf than most ornamental grasses and a very wide vertical white striping throughout the leaf. It grows 4-6 feet in height in full sun or part shade and in almost any soil from sandy to clay and doesn’t require good drainage. The puffy flower heads are plumbs that form in late summer and last up till frost. They work well in dried cut flower arrangements.

Another giant of the grass world is Erianthus ravennae, also known as Ravenna Grass. It is considered to be the best substitute for Pampas Grass for northern regions. It has an upright arching form with gray-green leaves that reach a height of about 5 feet. In late summer the flower spikes extend this height to 8-12 feet. Silvery flower panicles have hints of purple and brighten to white in fall. These can also be used in dried flower arrangements.

Schizachyrium scoparium is the native American grass Little Blue-Stem. This is a prairie grass that forms clumps of pale green, slightly hairy foliage. It grows 3 feet tall and spreads 2 feet in a wide range of soil types. The flowers are pale blue-green, rapidly turning to seed as the plant ages to bronze and orange with the first frost.

Ornamental grasses should be cut down to 4 inches in the spring before new growth appears. These grasses come in many different sizes, forms, and color. They can be used as specimen plants, in the border, around ponds, and as ground covers.

The botanical garden showcases a number of these useful grasses.

Barbara Cecil Russ,
Horiculturist for Western Ky. Botanical Garden

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