University of Illinois Extension
Bruce Spangeberg

These articles are written to apply to the northeastern corner of Illinois. Problems and timing may not apply outside of this area.

Stateline Yard & Garden

Ornamental Grasses Popular Landscape Additions

March 30, 2000

Ornamental grasses continue to be popular additions to home landscapes. In addition to having low maintenance needs, ornamental grasses are popular due to a wide variety of colors, textures, and growth habits that provide multi-seasonal interest.

Most ornamental grasses prefer sun locations and tolerate a variety of soil conditions. Ornamental grasses are usually planted as transplants. Primary care is to provide water during dry weather until the plants are established. Little fertilization is usually needed. The most important maintenance is cutting back old foliage before new growth emerges each year.

When considering ornamental grasses, match the characteristics of the species to what is desirable to your landscape and make sure the species is hardy. Some popular species, such as Japanese blood grass (Imperata cylindrica var. rubra) and giant reed (Arundo donax) are very attractive but not considered hardy in northern Illinois.

The largest and most popular family of ornamental grasses is the Miscanthus sinensis, or Chinese silvergrass. There are many cultivars of this species. Most grow as tall, arching clumps with showy flowers and seedheads that hang on for extended periods of time. Another very popular ornamental grass is feather reed grass, or Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster.'

Several species of ornamental grasses that can provide shades of blue to the landscape. All prefer full-sun but tolerate partial shade. The blue fescues (Festuca species) grow as low mounds of blue-gray, fine textured foliage. Blue oat grass, Helictotrichon sempervirens, produces larger mounds of medium textured foliage. Blue Lymegrass (Leymus arenarius) is a coarse-textured blue species with aggressive rhizomes, so only plant where it has room to spread.

Fountain grass, or Pennisetum alopecuroides, is a popular species with arching clumps of foxtail-like flowers. This species is considered marginally hardy in northern Illinois. The red or burgundy fountain grasses should be grown as annuals in our area. They make good additions to landscape beds containing various types of annual flowers.

Finally, several native grass species that make good choices for landscape use. Among these are little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepsis), side oats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula), and Indiangrass (Sorghastrun nutans).


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