Ornamental Grasses

Ornamental grasses and grass-like plants are great in the home landscape because of their hardiness, easy maintenance, dramatic appearance, and wide variety of textures, colors, and sizes. Ornamental grasses refer to true grasses and plants that have grass-like appearances like sedges.
Most ornamental grasses are perennials, meaning they live two years or more. Grasses have a clumping or spreading growth habit. Spreading grasses expand rapidly by aboveground or underground stems. Clumping or bunch grasses grow in a clump that gradually increase in diameter.
South Carolina ornamental grasses can be cool or warm season plants. Few grasses are cool season plants that begin their new growth in the fall or winter and bloom in spring or early summer. Most ornamental grasses are warm season plants. They grow quickly during the spring and summer, bloom in late summer or fall, and are dormant in the winter.
Ornamental grasses vary in height from ground covers to plants that reach up to 15 feet tall. Most flower heads are very showy. The flowers vary in size, color, and texture. Flowers and seed heads can last for several weeks to months. Some even last throughout the winter. Foliage can be green, blue, red, purple, yellow, or a variegated leaf color. They also have good fall color and change to a golden yellow, orange, red, or purple before turning tan or straw hues in the winter.
Ornamental grasses can be incorporated differently into the landscape. They can be used as accent plants, substituted in place of small shrubs, as borders, on hillsides for erosion control, or in containers.
Most ornamental grasses need to be cut back before the new season’s growth starts. Since many grasses are warm season plants and are attractive during the winter, cut them back in late winter or early spring. Most grasses will also need to be divided every 3 to 4 years. If they are not divided, they can become thin or die out in the center. Divide warm season grasses during early spring just before the new growth begins. Divide cool season grasses in early fall.
Some recommended ornamental grasses include: big bluestem, side oats gramma, blue gamma, feather reed grass, Korean feather reed grass, upland river oats, Japanese forest grass, muhly grass, bamboo muhly, Mexican feather grass, switchgrass, fountain grass, Chinese fountain grass, annual fountain grass, Indian grass, giant sacaton, giant needle grass, sea oats, Japanese sweet flag, Japanese sedge, flax lily, and matt rush.
There are some non-native invasive grasses that are commonly used in the landscape that should be removed. These species include maidengrass, pampas grass, Japanese bloodgrass, giant reed, cogongrass, and weeping lovegrass. Japanese bloodgrass will revert back to the invasive form of cogongrass. Since cogongrass is one of the ten worst weeds in the world, it is illegal to sell, distribute, or plant Japanese bloodgrass in South Carolina.
For more information on ornamental grasses, please visit the Home and Garden Information Center website at hgic.clemson.edu. Tune in on Tuesday nights to watch “Making it Grow” at 7 p.m. on SCETV or mig.org. E-mail Outen at [email protected]
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