Glorious Grasses

Ornamental grasses can be assets in the landscape throughout the year, but many reach their peak appeal in late summer and fall.  Most ornamental grasses die back to brown in the winter, but a few are evergreen – and even the ones that aren’t often provide interesting character or habitat.

As a group, grasses are drought tolerant, deer resistant, and bird-friendly plants.  They work as well in wild and natural areas as they do in more formal plantings, and many make good container plants as well.

Whether planted with showy annuals and perennials, providing structure and grace to wildflower meadows, among conifers and shrubs in landscape beds, or along the edge of ponds and water features, grasses are well worth incorporating into your landscape.

Great Grasses for Western Oregon

Foerster’s Feather Reed Grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’) starts it’s show a little earlier than many grasses – with narrow tan flower spikes held well above the foliage starting in early summer and lasting all summer long.  This tall narrow grass looks great as a backdrop behind a flower bed or in a narrow foundation area to break up blank wall space.  5 ft. tall by 2 ft. wide.

Tufted Hair Grass (Deschampsia cespitosa) is a local native grass with good ornamental qualities.  Flower interest early to late summer, and is semi-evergreen.  Tufted hair grass is more tolerant to wet soil and partial shade than many other grasses, and is also an important host plant for butterflies.  3 ft. tall by 2 ft. wide.

Roemer’s Fescue (Festuca roemeri) is another local native grass. Very narrow bluish-green leaves are topped in early summer with narrow flower spikes.  Great for mass plantings to create a meadow, or as individual specimens in a landscape. 2-3 ft. tall and wide.

Golden Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’) grows adequately in irrigated sun, but shines in shady locations. The flowers aren’t as dramatic as many of the ornamental grasses, but the waving golden hued leaves more than make up for it.  A spreader, best used in groups as a tall groundcover or short border.  Brown in winter, prune back a few inches above soil in late winter to early spring.  15-18 inches tall.

Evergreen Blue Oat Grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens). Round blue-grey blades reach up to 2 ft. tall, and narrow flower spikes add another 2 ft. to the overall height in early summer.  Evergreen, used as an individual specimen in a small bed or clustered or lined up for moderate sized grouping or border.

Morning Light Maiden Grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’) is at once massive and delicate.  Very narrow blades are edged in white and sway in every breeze, giving shimmering silvery appearance that softens any landscape.  Rosy-purple flowers in late summer soon give way to white seed tufts.  Though maiden grass browns in wither, we usually wait until new spring growth to prune them back – the stems are usually hardy enough to provide continued interest without becoming a floppy mess, and are excellent bird habitat.  5-6 ft. tall by 3-4 ft. wide.

Undaunted Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia reverchonii ‘Undaunted’). This hardy grass produces a very dense and well behaved clump of narrow blades, which are completely buried late summer to fall with loose wavy plumes of bright pink flower clusters.  Best enjoyed in groups or masses.  2-3 ft. tall and wide.

Prairie Sky Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum ‘Prairie Sky’) Blue stems and leaves are strongly erect, creating a dense conical mass.  Pink-tinged very open flower clusters create an open cloud just above the foliage in late summer, ageing to beige as seed develops.  Fall leaves turn an attractive yellow before browning for the winter.  Great as a large accent plant or lined up for a seasonal screen.  5-6 ft. tall x 2-3 ft. wide.

Karley Rose Fountain Grass (Pennisetum orientale Karley Rose) is the slightly larger and earlier blooming cousin to the ever popular Hameln Dwarf Fountain Grass.  Long, arching, dusky purple flower spikes start around midsummer and persist for a long flowering cycle, often well into the fall.  Equally good as an individual specimen or in larger groupings. Brown in winter.  4-5 ft. tall by 3-4 ft. wide.