If any group of plants seem to have been created with the Great
Lakes Gardener in mind, it would have to be the ornamental grasses. The ornamental grasses offer interest throughout the year. They offer the beauty of their form and inflorescences during the growing season. Many often change color during the Fall, and most offer great structural interest during the Winter.
By choosing wisely, great success and satisfaction can come from growing ornamental grasses. With that in mind, let’s discover a few good clump forming varieties that do well in our Great Lakes Region.
Miscanthus sinensis, or Japanese Silver Grass, is a wonderful grass. There are many new cultivars available to choose from. Most are relatively tall, and make great focal points or screens in the garden. Some cultivars to consider:
‘Morning Light’ is a 4 to 5 foot plant which sports red-bronze inflorescences which age to a creamy white. Its foliage has a silvery appearance when viewed from a distance due to its green and white variegation. ‘Gacillimus’ grows from 5 to 7 feet tall. It has wine-red plumes that fade to a pinkish tan as they age. ‘Silberfeder’ is an older selection which displays silvery inflorescences that age to a buff white. It also grows taller, to about 8 feet tall. It is great for screening or as a specimen plant.
Other great grasses for our region include:
Festuca ‘Elijah Blue’. This is a smaller clump former about 12 inches tall with a neat growth habit. It is silvery blue with a rounded appearance. This grass will form seedheads that need to be removed to prevent self-seeding, however.
Molina caerulea ‘Variegata’, or Variegated Purple Moor Grass, grows to about 12 inches tall and sports brownish-purple seedheads. It is an open clump in appearance, and does well in acidic soils.
Helictotrichon sempervirens, Blue Oat Grass, forms a spiky, round appearance, rather like a sea urchin. It has blue-grey stiff leaf blades. Growth is to about 20 inches with buff-colored plumes to about 4 feet tall.
All these grasses will do well in well-drained loamy soil, rich in organic material. They require full sun to perform their best. Most are drought tolerant, although Blue Oat Grass is a bit less tolerant of prolonged dry spells than the other varieties. Remove spent foliage and plumes in the late winter to early spring. Divide the clumps no later than mid-summer so the plants have a chance to become established before the end of Fall. Fertilizer should not be high in nitrogen, which can cause excessive and weak growth.