7 Essential Ornamental Grasses

Perennials | Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Walking through the garden each season, or even week, a different plant will take center stage. Previously ignored as a team player in the rhythm of the landscape, the wallflower suddenly dominates the beauty of the garden. Late summer / Fall is when ornamental grasses get their champion moment in the garden against the autumnal colors. As other perennials are beginning to lose their luster and drop leaves, ornamental grasses are still standing tall with some parading proud plumes in fall winds. However there are ornamental grasses other than maiden hair grass (Miscanthus) and fountain grass (Pennisetum) . Here is a list of seven great ornamental grasses to try in your garden that give a lot in return.

 

Bouteloua gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition’- Blonde Ambition blue grama grass

ZONES: 3-10   HEIGHT: .75 – 2.50ft    SPREAD: .75-1.50ft    FULL SUN

DESCRIPTION:

An American native Blonde Ambition blue grama grass changes the perception of  what an ornamental grass should look like with its horizontal insect-like seed head that appear mid to late summer.  Once the seed heads appear you can see where it gets it name with the blond coloration.  A terrific choice for a hot dry / xeric garden because it is quite drought tolerant after established.  Make sure this one has good drainage!

Bouteloua gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition’, 7 Essential Ornamental Grasses, Thinking Outside the Boxwood Bouteloua gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition’, 7 Essential Ornamental Grasses, Thinking Outside the Boxwood

 

Hakonechloa macra – Japanese forest grass

ZONES: 5-9   HEIGHT: 1.5-2.5ft   SPREAD: 2-3+ft   SHADE/PART SHADE

DESCRIPTION:

I love this grass!  Commonly known as “the grass” for shade- which is true, but it can be way more than that.  Once it is established this grass has a beautiful almost weeding habit which gracefully smothers the ground, good luck weeds!  There are many chartreuse cultivars on the market, all of which I use- like ‘Aureola’, ‘All Gold’ and ‘Albo Striata’.  However, I am really addicted to the straight species green variety- just regular old Hakonechola macra.  Tuff to find on the market, that is why I grow my own, but well worth it when you do.  Macra can be planted in shade, part shade, and full sun!  This grass likes consistently moist, but well drained soil.   As the pictures below illustrate it can get quite girthy which I think is why I love it so much- a beautiful, low and wide grass.

Hakonechloa macra, 7 Essential Ornamental Grasses, Thinking Outside the Boxwood

Hakonechloa macra, 7 Essential Ornamental Grasses, Thinking Outside the Boxwood Hakonechloa macra, 7 Essential Ornamental Grasses, Thinking Outside the Boxwood

 

Sporobolus heterolepis- prairie dropseed

ZONES: 3-9   HEIGHT: 2-3ft    SPREAD: 2-3ft    FULL SUN

DESCRIPTION:

The quintessential North American native grass. The blades are floppy and finely texture which makes is a great grass to blend into a mixed border or planted in mass.  To see a great example of a prairie dropseed meadow be sure to visit the majestic Chanticleer Gardens.  This handsome grass send up beautifully scent airy plumes mid summer that persist into the winter.  Come fall the green foliage turns an attractive golden color for an added bonus.

Sporobolus heterolepis, 7 Essential Ornamental Grasses, Thinking Outside the Boxwood

Sporobolus heterolepis, 7 Essential Ornamental Grasses, Thinking Outside the Boxwood

Sporobolus heterolepis, 7 Essential Ornamental Grasses, Thinking Outside the Boxwood

 

 

Deschampsia cespitosa ‘Schottland’- Scottish tufted hair grass 

ZONES: 4-6   HEIGHT: 2-3ft    SPREAD: 1-2ft    SHADE

DESCRIPTION:

This cool season grass gets going in the early spring with foliage emerging much earlier than other grasses.  The wispy seed heads dance gracefully above the low fine foliage.  This grass might win the grass I have shot most video of because of the way it sways in a light breeze.  The golden plumes stay on the grass until December or first major snow which quickly flatten.  Still worth it!  Schottland- preforms excellently in my garden (shown) in part shade.  Actually, needs a little bit of shade to really bloom well.

Deschampsia cespitosa 'Schottland’, 7 Essential Ornamental Grasses, Thinking Outside the Boxwood Deschampsia cespitosa 'Schottland’, 7 Essential Ornamental Grasses, Thinking Outside the Boxwood  Deschampsia cespitosa 'Schottland’, 7 Essential Ornamental Grasses, Thinking Outside the Boxwood

Deschampsia cespitosa 'Schottland’, 7 Essential Ornamental Grasses, Thinking Outside the Boxwood

 

Panicum virgatum ‘Northwind’- Northwind switch grass

ZONES: 5-9   HEIGHT: 4-6ft    SPREAD: 2-2.5ft    FULL SUN/PART SHADE

DESCRIPTION:

Attractive wide blades of steel-blue is what draws me to this grass.  An extremely sturdy selection that I often use in designs for its textural qualities.  In September the plumes emerge to create a handsome grey haze with-in the top of the blades.  Introduced by renowned plantsman Roy Diblik this grass deserves an area in a sunny spot in your garden.

Panicum virgatum 'Northwind', 7 Essential Ornamental Grasses, Thinking Outside the Boxwood

Panicum virgatum 'Northwind', 7 Essential Ornamental Grasses, Thinking Outside the Boxwood

 

Calamagrostis × acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’- feather reed grass

ZONES: 5-9   HEIGHT: 3-5ft    SPREAD: 1-2.5ft    FULL SUN

DESCRIPTION:

An architectural grass with it’s stick straight plumes, feather reed grass creates a strong vertical accent in the landscape.  Straw color plumes decorate the summer months.  Used in mass or as specimen dance in a border this grass creates drama wherever you plant it.  Best suited in full sun.  Very drought tolerant once established.

Calamagrostis × acutiflora 'Karl Foerster', 7 Essential Ornamental Grasses, Thinking Outside the Boxwood

 

 

Calamagrostis × acutiflora 'Karl Foerster', 7 Essential Ornamental Grasses, Thinking Outside the Boxwood

Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Jazz’- Jazz little bluestem 

ZONES: 3-9   HEIGHT: 2-2.5ft    SPREAD: 1-1.5ft    FULL SUN

DESCRIPTION:

Looking for blue in your garden.  Jazz little bluestem, a North American native, offers a shorter non-flopping selection introduced by Brent Horvath form Intrinsic Perennials.  I often plant in pockets of 5-7 to create a bit of drama in a border.  Fall the blue turns a purple / mauve tone!

Schizachyrium scoparium 'Jazz', 7 Essential Ornamental Grasses, Thinking Outside the Boxwood

Schizachyrium scoparium 'Jazz', 7 Essential Ornamental Grasses, Thinking Outside the Boxwood

 

Here is a graphic listing for the seven grasses listed with their main details for quick reference pinning.  Email or comment with any questions.

7 Essential Ornamental Grasses, Thinking Outside the Boxwood

Daring Forms with Longfield Gardens

Bulbs, Fall, G A R D E N S, Gardens, Landscape Design, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Daring Forms with Longfield Gardens, Thinking Outside the Boxwood

Last spring I shared a perennial garden design featuring alliums from Longfield Gardens (Bountiful Blooms, you can order the collection here). That was during allium bloom time. Now that it’s allium planting time, I am sharing a second design. As I’ve shared before, I use alliums frequently for their cool color palette, deer resistance and unexpected texture. The two designs that I developed for Longfield Gardens are completely different. The first one, Beautiful Blooms, focused on color and lush blooms. This second one, Daring Forms, plays on textures. I used Giant Allium ‘Gladiator’ and Allium aflatunense ‘Purple Sensation’ in both designs, which showcases their versatility. All of the bulbs are available either separately or in pre-packaged in collections from www.longfield-gardens.com Articles on their website about these designs offer additional details, photos and more information about the plants.

Daring Forms collection available HERE, and additional article HERE

Bountiful Blooms collection available HERE, and additional article HERE.

 

Daring Forms with Longfield Gardens, Thinking Outside the Boxwood

Inspiration: This garden weaves perennials, grasses and bulbs into a beautiful tapestry of changing colors and dynamic textures. The look is ethereal, but the plants are as tough as nails. This border will tolerate heat and drought, and requires very little maintenance. Planted among these easy-care perennials are three types of alliums, each with a different height, flower size and bloom time. They will be the crowning jewels in this contemporary garden design.

 

 

Implementing the Design:

With the last design I walked you through the planting process step by step. With this one, you’ll be able to follow along as we’re actually planting the perennials and bulbs. We will revisit the design over the course of next year so you can really see how all the plants will play with each other. A disclaimer is I only planted half of the design, making this only 9 feet x 10 feet compared to 18 wide.

 

WHEN TO PLANT:

The perennials in this design can be planted anytime between mid-spring (after the soil has warmed to 60+ degrees) through early fall. Whenever you plant, make sure to provide a consistent supply of water for the first few months so the plants are able to establish strong roots. Allium and crocus bulbs are only available for fall planting. You can purchase the bulbs in August or September, but wait to plant them until soil temperatures have cooled down, sometime between mid-October and the beginning of November. In mild years I have planted as late as Thanksgiving and have not had any issues. If you plant too early, the warmth of the soil can rot the bulbs.

 

 SELECTING PERENNIALS:

Giant Allium ‘Gladiator’, Allium aflatunense ‘Purple Sensation’, Allium stipitatum ‘Mount Everest’ Species Crocus ‘Romance’ and Giant Crocus ‘Yalta’ – You can order the bulbs in the beginning of August up until November, but shop early for best selection. When the bulbs arrive (see image below for how bulbs will arrive), store them in a cool, dry location until you are ready to start planting.

Daring Forms with Longfield Gardens, Thinking Outside the Boxwood

Here is how my bulbs arrived from Longfield Gardens for planting. Keep bulbs in their bags until planting, once opened will be difficult to tell apart. Daring Forms with Longfield Gardens, Thinking Outside the Boxwood

 

 

Artemisia ‘Fowls Castle’, Pentsemon ‘Dark Towers’ Beardtongue, Lavandula x intermedia ‘Phenomenal’, Ajuga reptans ‘Binblasca’ Bugleweed, Stachys byzantine ‘Helen von Stein’ – Look for these at your local garden center or online suppliers like Longfield Gardens. Plants in 1-2 quart containers are fine. Larger sizes cost more and require more work planting.

When selecting plants, take a minute to pull the plant from the container and look at the root system. You want to see fresh, white roots. Typically, the later in the season you purchase, the greater the chance the plant will be root bound. You can still buy root bound plants, but you will need to cut/slice the roots around the edges and cut off the bottom “foot” (about an inch) to encourage new growth before placing in the ground.  If you don’t the “tease” the roots there is a chance the roots will continue to circle and not properly establish— this is called girdling.

Daring Forms with Longfield Gardens, Thinking Outside the Boxwood

Daring Forms with Longfield Gardens, Thinking Outside the Boxwood

 

 

Prepping for Planting:

When selecting the location for your border, look for a place that gets full sun. These plants will do great in a hot spot within your garden. Once you have your location, prep the bed by tilling or turning the soil and adding organic matter. I use leaf compost made from the previous year’s clippings, but you can purchase a similar product from your local garden center. A little goes a long way. If you amend your soil too much, you run the risk of having floppy plants later in the season. You want to make sure you are providing a well-balanced soil that drains well and has plenty of nutrients to help plants get established. If you’re unsure about the pH or nutrient levels in your soil, it wouldn’t hurt to start with a soil test. They’re available through garden centers or online services.

 

A handful of soil amendments to tilled into the soil prior to planting. you are looking to add this into the soil about 8-10 inches deep. Daring Forms with Longfield Gardens, Thinking Outside the Boxwood

 

 

 

PLANTING:

STEP ONE: When you have your bed prepped and plants purchased, use the design as a guide for placing the plants on the bed – still in their containers. This allows you to work out spacing before you start to dig. Begin in the center of the bed and work out to the sides. If your bed is narrower or deeper than our 10 ft x 18 ft design, this will give you a chance to make some changes in spacing.  DO NOT PLACE OR PLANT THE BULBS YET, this will be the last step.

Daring Forms with Longfield Gardens, Thinking Outside the Boxwood

 

STEP TWO:  Once you finalized your placement, you can start planting. If your design is against a building, start at the back and work forward. Leave all the plants in their place and move one at a time as you dig the hole, then place the potted plant into its hole. Once all holes are dug, you can go back to un-pot, cut roots (see up in selecting plants about root bound plants) and formally plant. This method limits the exhaustive up and down strain on your back.

 

 

Here are the plants still in containers in their holes. You can see that this method sees the least disruption to the original placement. Daring Forms with Longfield Gardens, Thinking Outside the Boxwood

 

Here is a before and after of a root bound plant when preparing for planting. You can see all the white roots wrapping around the soil. In the second photo I have used my fingers to loosen and break the roots around the sides and used by soil knife to cut off the foot or bottom inch of soil. This step will help the roots travel into the new soil. Daring Forms with Longfield Gardens, Thinking Outside the Boxwood

 

 

 

STEP THREE: When you have all the potted perennials planted, give each plant a deep watering. Proper moisture is the key to establishment. You can use an overhead sprinkler or water by hand. Either way, I always do the finger test. Stick your finger in the soil, if soil sticks to it, you are fine. If not, it’s too dry and you need to water more. If you plant the potted perennials in spring or summer, stop at this point and add the bulbs in the fall.

Daring Forms with Longfield Gardens, Thinking Outside the Boxwood

 

STEP FOUR: Referring to the design, start by placing your bulbs on top of the soil as you did with the plants. This way you can make sure you are happy with your spacing and have everything spread out. The ‘Purple Sensation’ and ‘Mount Everest’ bulbs should be mixed into the back third of the garden.  The crocuses are planted in groups of 4-5 bulbs keeping the ‘Romance’ within the ‘Helen von Stein’ and the ‘Yalta’ within the Bugleweed.

Daring Forms with Longfield Gardens, Thinking Outside the Boxwood

 

 

STEP FIVE: Once you have laid out all the bulbs, pick a corner and work across the bed, planting as you go. For each allium, dig a hole that’s 3 times the depth of the bulb and a little bigger than the width of the bulb. Place a sprinkle of bone meal in the bottom of the hole as a starter fertilizer, add the bulb and cover. For the crocuses, dig 8-inch diameter holes that are 3 times the depth of the bulbs. Add 4-5 crocus bulbs and cover. Once all the bulbs are planted, you can mulch the bed with chopped up yard leaves (optional).

 

Planting the Allium Bulbs: (note the depth of my soil knife in the first photo to showcase how deep you need an allium hole)Daring Forms with Longfield Gardens, Thinking Outside the Boxwood

 

Planting Crocus Bulbs:Daring Forms with Longfield Gardens, Thinking Outside the Boxwood

 

Here is the completed planting after the bulbs have been planted, but prior to covering of leaf mulch for the winter.  Daring Forms with Longfield Gardens, Thinking Outside the Boxwood

 

MAINTENANCE:

The first year your garden will look good, the second year will be better, and the third year and beyond will be the real pay off for all your hard work. Consistent watering is key the first year, especially throughout the hot summer months. Make sure to remove any weeds that try to take root in the border. After a few years, the plants will be large enough to choke out most weeds.

 

I am a gardener who doesn’t cut back my perennials in the fall, because I like to enjoy their winter structure. That being said, if some plants are looking pretty gnarly, feel free to clean them up a bit. Come spring, we cut back the perennials for a fresh start and mulch the beds with 1½ to 2” of compost or chopped leaves. In this case, more is not better. We keep the mulch layer thin so as not to smother the base of the perennials. This organic matter will also feed your garden for the year so no addition fertilizer is really needed. By the second year, the perennials will be well rooted and you’ll only need to be concerned about watering during periods of drought. If you do water, make sure you are soaking the soil to encourage the roots to go deeper into the soil.  Shallow watering will encourage shallow roots.

 

 

 

ALLIUM and CROCUS MAINTENANCE:

The following spring, keep your eyes open for the bulbs breaking through with the rest of your perennials. The crocuses will bloom first in early spring followed by the alliums in late spring. The idea of this design is that once the bulbs have finished blooming, emerging perennials will cover up the dying bulb foliage. I am a big fan of leaving the dried heads of the alliums to add visual interest as far into the summer as possible. I generally end up pulling the dry stocks out come late July. You can also hang and dry the allium heads to make stunning dried arrangements.

 

I will share photos of the garden growing all next year and beyond so you can see how the design is expressed in living, growing, changing plants. Please let me know if you have any specific questions, I will be glad to answer. Please visit Longfield Gardens for additional information and to purchase the bulbs in used the design HERE.

DOWNLOAD THE PDF: daring-forms_allium_garden_design

 

Also, there are some other great bloggers sharing about allium bulbs throughout the week for you to check out:

Daring Forms with Longfield Gardens, Thinking Outside the Boxwood