The Grass is Always Greener, or Bluer, or Redder in the Landscape!

The Grass is Always Greener, or Bluer, or Redder in the Landscape!

Did you know lawns across the country consume more than 3 TRILLION gallons of water, 200 million gallons of gas to mow them, and over 60 million pounds of pesticides annually. A push to a "no-mow" concept is starting to happen. One out of 3 families grow some of their own food in vegetables and/or fruit trees and bushes. Many are taking parts of their yards and converting them to low growing turf grasses that require little grooming or just not mowing their yards and letting the lawns grow. Others are planting layered heights of grasses in unique naturalized patterns and enjoying the almost maintenance free display. Add a few rocks or boulders and the possibilities are endless.
Grasses are pretty much maintenance free plants. They add some animation to the landscape when the wind blows and offer a selection of unmatched colors.
Starting from the shortest, I like blue fescue which only reaches about a foot tall. They offer a powder to gun metal blue color and are great for the landscape. Another color plant is liriope, offering a deep green or variegated yellow green color when you just need a little interest, these are a great addition. In the fall they offer a purple or blue flower spike to add even more interest.
Looking for short red? Red Baron Japanese blood grass offers a showy option. Varieties like little bunny fountain grass are great for a green mound with miniature plumes. Planted in a cluster these plants really make an impact.
Relatively new to our area and being hardy is the pink muhly grass, (Muhlenbergia capillaris). This grass offers moderate growth with green slender leaves emerging in spring to a height of 2-3 feet. As fall nears, plumes of pinkish red hues emerge on top of leaves mimicking cotton candy. Color fades in winter but the plumes provide some interest.
Another grass, prairie drop seed is a nice, elegant addition to any planting. A burst of flowering panicles on slender stems float above tufted grass in late summer. Tints of pinks and brown color blooms emit hints of coriander in the air. In the fall, the foliage turns hues of gold. This grass grows 2-4' tall. 
Moving taller, reds like Hot rod red switch grass or shenandoah offer 3-4 tall green grass with red 1/3 or so blades red in color. As fall arrives plumes hover over the tops of these grasses. Try blue lyme grass for that steel blue color in a 3-4' range. Looking for shades of greens, dwarf fountain grass grows in a nice mound and is about a 2-3' height. Slightly larger is the regular fountain grass which can reach 3-4'
Little Bunny fountain grass grows only 1' tall and offers the same plumes as fountain grasses but in a miniature form.
Moving up the ladder, a ton of miscanthus sinensis varieties in fine blades of green, Maiden grass, offer 5-6 tall clumps of green bladed grass. One of my favorites is the Zebra or porcupine grass which is green with yellow dashes, almost painted blades of yellow every 4-6" or so. Variegated varieties like Japanese silver grass really command attention. Purple maiden or flame grass offers reddish-tinged flowers which appear on tassel-like plumes in fall atop a nice green bladed clump. This variety changes to a burgundy tinge foliage in the fall once a hard killing frost occurs with plumes changing to white. All these varieties grow 5-7' tall.
A new to the market, native, big bluestem blackhawk offers dark green leaves which emerge in spring changing to an almost black foliage during the summer. It offers a really cool contrast to the landscape and is non-invasive reaching 6' tall. I like to weave it through perennial gardens or plant in mixed containers. As an added bonus, deer do not like to eat it!!
Now, if you need taller grasses, try ravenna or hardy pampass grass. Topping out at 12-16' tall once established, these grasses definitely command attention. The silvery white plume towers over the foliage almost like a firework bursting in the fall of the season.
Another monster grass growing 12-14’ tall is the Giant Maiden Grass. This plant is great for creating thick barriers when you want some privacy from the neighbors. It is quick to establish and will reach new heights each year!
If you have shady areas in your landscape, stick with the all green varieties which will tolerate shade. One exception is the all gold forest grass (hakonechloa), this yellow beauty actually needs the shade to thrive.
Grasses like moist well draining soils. Do not plant in soggy, extremely wet areas. I am often asked when they should be cut back. I like to wait till early spring and trim or prune down to 4-6" tall before new growth happens. This way you get to enjoy some winter interest in the landscape. A shot of fertilizer such as plant-tone in the spring will help these grasses thrive. Many other varieties of grasses are available, each having their own benefit. I have touched on only a small fraction of what is available. Now is a great time to plant, so head out this next week and pick out a few for your landscape. You will be awfully glad you did!!
J.R. Pandy, "The No B.S.Gardener"
Pandy's Premier Garden Center
440-324-4314
www.pandysgardencenter.com

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