When it comes to perennial gardening, fall is often a forgotten season. Autumn is one of the most beautiful times of the year with brilliant colors and cool, crisp air. It should not spell the end of the season for your perennial garden. There are many wonderful perennials that are in their prime in the fall of the year. Ornamental grasses are one such group of plants. Watch Mark Viette's video tips on ornamental grasses.
Ornamental grasses are a very diverse group. They can be wide leaved or narrow leaved, bright green, yellow, blue, red, orange or even tan and brown. They can be variegated vertically as in Miscanthus sinensis 'Variegatus' or even horizontally like M. sinensis 'Strictus' (porcupine grass) which adds a really interesting effect to your garden. The attractive Korean Feather Reed Grass (Achnatherum brachytricha) has a beautiful upright, arching form (30” tall) with feathery pink-purple flower heads which grow to four feet. There is even a dwarf Miscanthus named 'Adagio' with narrow silvery gray foliage and graceful plumes which reach to only four feet - perfect for smaller spaces! The beautiful, low-growing grass, Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola', will thrive in shade and has gorgeous yellow and green variegated foliage on arching stems that cascade gracefully downward creating the effect of a golden waterfall!
Ornamental grasses provide gentle motion and soothing whispers to the garden throughout the season. In mid to late summer, most grasses begin to flower. The graceful plumes of Miscanthus reach skyward and wave gently in the slightest breeze. The caterpillar-like blooms of Pennisetum increase the vertical effect that these grasses provide in the landscape. And all the while - the gentle whispering of the foliage!
Throughout the summer season and into the fall, ornamental grasses undergo a gradual transformation of flowers and foliage. In the cool autumn temperatures, the foliage begins to mature. Some have brilliant fall colors - reds and yellows, others mature to a beautiful tan or golden brown. The gentle motion caused by the fall breezes creates a peaceful rustling sound in the drying foliage. These are truly perennials with four season interest! The rustling of the foliage and the waving of the plumes is a delight through early spring when your grasses will be cut to the ground ready to grow to their full height again in just a few short weeks!
As the ornamental grasses grow to their full height and beauty each summer, we tend to forget how they can add garden interest as the fall turns into winter. Not only do a lot of them turn lovely fall colors, but as they go dormant and turn brown, they become sheltered havens and even playgrounds for the birds that stay over winter.
True winter beauty is seeing a stand of graceful Miscanthus 'Gracillimus', 'Morning Light', 'Adagio', or other Miscanthus cultivar draped in a winter coat of snow, or seeing the sun sparkle off their thin sheets of ice after a winter drizzle. Even the shorter Pennisetum 'Hameln' with its caterpillar-like blooms are fabulous after a light winter snow.
Grasses make wonderful dried arrangements for indoor or outdoor decorating. The cut plumes add color and texture to indoor arrangements. For a nice autumn display, bundle plumes and foliage together with some cut flowers of Sedum 'Autumn Joy' and Solidago spp. (Goldenrod), and for added interest and texture add some dried seed pods of Siberian Iris, Hibiscus, Oriental Poppy, or any other neat looking stuff! Just rummage through your garden - there are lots of cool looking dried flowers and foliage in the garden in the autumn that would make wonderful additions to an outdoor fall display!
Ornamental grasses also provide excellent hiding places for wild birds and also serve as a natural source of food.
Ornamental grasses are extremely low maintenance and trouble-free. They are drought resistant and are rarely bothered by insects or diseases. Best of all, they are DEER resistant!
Most varieties prefer full sun or bright shade, but there are some that even do well in shade. Basically, all they require is to be cut back to the ground each spring before the new year's growth begins. Spring is also the best time to divide ornamental grasses. Do not divide them in the fall.
Ornamental grasses are extremely low maintenance and trouble-free. Basically, all they require is to be cut back to the ground each spring before the new year's growth begins.