Whether you're interested in sprucing up your landscape or augmenting a garden style, ornamental grasses are a great way to add a touch of simplistic beauty. Short, ground-hugging grasses are only one specific kind of grass. Many other grasses can be used for more than a simple lawn covering. The common characteristics of all grasses are narrow leaves and hollow stems. Some plants such as rushes, cattails, and sedges aren't truly in the same family, but are still commonly referred to as ornamental grass.
Cool Season v. Warm Season Ornamental Grass
The difference between these grasses are, as you suspected, how they perform in different seasons. Cool season ornamental grasses grow best in cooler weather. They begin to grow early in the spring and, in mild conditions, will display evergreen properties and remain vital throughout the winter. They may still perform okay during the summer, but they require frequent and diligent watering to prevent browning. Trimming off the brown foliage is best done in early spring when the grass is growing. These grasses may also need to be divided to avoid wilting in the center.
Warm season ornamental grasses wait until the soil is warmed and summer weather patterns have stabilized. They require less watering and remain vital in all but the most severe droughts. These grasses are also less susceptible to dying out in the middle, although you'll still probably need to trim them back in the spring.
Overall, warm season grasses require less maintenance and attention, but won't enhance the look of your landscape or garden for as much of the year. Naturally, the climate in which you live will play a large part in which grass you decide to plant, but for homeowners who live in a region with a fair representation of all four seasons, this maintenance versus vitality span is an excellent way to choose the ornamental grass that's best for your home.
Fescues, tufted hair grass, blue oat grass, and autumn moor grass are all examples of cool season grasses. Perennial fountain grass, hardy pampas grass, switch grass, Japanese silver grass, northern sea oats, and prairie cord grass are warm season grasses.
Planting and Growth Patterns
Each kind of grass has its own distinct look and you should look at several before deciding which to plant. One important thing to consider, though, is the invasiveness of the grass you select. Creeping grass (or running grass) will spread out over the ground as it grows. Unless you want your ornamental grass taking over your yard or garden, you should think twice before planting these. There are ways of controlling this growth, but few homeowners find this maintenance to be worthwhileyou probably have enough trouble with common weeds as it is.
Clump forming grasses, on the other hand, stay where they're planted. They will increase in girth slowly over time, much like a tree or shrub. Most homeowners find these types of ornamental grasses to be more beautiful, anyway, and they are definitely easier to fit into a gardening scheme.
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Other Traits of Ornamental Grasses
One common reason to choose an ornamental grass is the color. Green is only one choice of many. You can find red, blue, silver, and copper grasses, just to name a few, and some grasses will even change colors throughout the year.
Some grasses will also generate a strong reaction from certain kinds of pests and animals. Some will attract them, while others will repel them. In some cases, a grass may repel one kind of pest but attract another. Make sure you know of these tendencies and how they relate to your local region before you plant.
In the end, the right ornamental grass is out there. Talking to a gardener or landscape contractor is a quick way of finding out which grasses work best in your climate, and the options you have to meet your landscaping needs.