As the temperatures become warmer, many homeowners are inquiring as to which plants tolerate the hot, dry weather of our summers. One group of plants that thrive under these conditions is ornamental grasses. They have attractive features and come in a variety of colors and textures. Many species have spectacular plumes in summer and beautiful color in fall. Ornamental grasses prefer fertile, well- drained soils with full sun. They seldom have pest problems.
Ornamental grasses can have a variety of functions in the landscape. The taller species can be used as screens or hedges, as well as an accent or focal point in plantings of perennial flowers and shrubs. They are also attractive when grown in containers. Grasses create interest in gardens by their ability to sway in the wind with a rustling sound. They also provide food and shelter to many species of birds.
Of the many types of ornamental grasses, the most frequently planted ones in our area are pampas grass, maiden grass, and fountain grass. Pampas grass, which is native to South America, grows tall, forming tough clumps from its spreading rhizomes. The leaves are narrow, long, strappy, and have sharp edges. The plumes are two to three feet long, varying from white to pink in color, and appearing in the late summer and early fall. The plant has a fountain-like appearance and is best planted where it can be observed from a distance.
Fountain grass is grown as an annual in the northern part of Georgia and as a perennial in the southern part of the state. It has arching branches, forms clumps and grows three to five feet tall. The purple to pink plumes appear during the summer and have a bottlebrush-like appearance.
Maiden grass has fine- textured, dark green leaves that grow four to six feet tall, and is among the most attractive of all of the ornamental grasses. The plumes have a rose to silvery color. The variety 'Zebrinus' has bands of yellow variegation across the blade with a zebra-like appearance. The plant is very versatile in the garden. It adds dimension and texture to a perennial border or foundation planting.
The best time to plant ornamental grasses is in the spring. Lightly fertilize in spring and late summer with an all purpose fertilizer like a 10-10-10. Even though tolerant of dry conditions, they require supplemental water when becoming established. Most of the ornamental grasses should be cut low to the ground in the middle to latter part of the winter prior to the appearance of new growth. Remove the old stems, blades and plumes then clean out the debris in the middle. You can divide the grasses by digging sections from the edge of the clump when new green stems appear in April.
Ornamental grasses are definitely worthy of planting in the landscape. Their attractive growth habit, low maintenance and ease of growing make them an excellent choice for any garden.
Timothy Daly, MS, is and Agricultural and Natural Resource Extension Agent with Gwinnett County Extension. He can be contacted at 678-377-4010 or firstname.lastname@example.org.