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

Consider Planting Ornamental Grasses

February 4, 1999

Page through most garden magazines and catalogs and you are bound to run across ornamental grasses. They look attractive and are said to be easy to grow. They sound like good choices for the landscape, and in fact they are!

Ornamental grasses are desirable additions to the landscape for several reasons. Certainly they offer a variety of colors, textures, and growth habits, with multi-seasonal landscape interest. Maintenance needs are low, as are pest and disease problems. Uses include ground covers, hedges, screens, naturalizing, and adding focal points to the landscape.

Most ornamental grasses prefer sun locations. Most species will tolerate a variety of soil conditions. Many have a bunch type growth habit, meaning they will not become an invasive problem, although a few species do have runners that may allow them to spread considerably. Most species grow fairly quickly.

Ornamental grasses are usually planted as transplants. Primary care is to provide water during dry weather until the plants are established. Little fertilization is needed for most species. The most important care is to cut back old foliage before new growth emerges each year.

There are many ornamental grass species available. 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. Some of the popular cultivars include ‘Morning Light,’ ‘Strictus,’ ‘Purpurascens,’ ‘Siberfedher,’ ‘Variegatus’ and ‘Zebrinus.’

Another very popular ornamental grass is feather reed grass, or Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster.’ This grass features strong, upright clumps with bronze flowers that last for extended periods of time. This grass is used a great deal in the industry.

Next week, discussion of more desirable species continues, including some native species.



Click here for the full article index