Winter Grasses

Here’s a disclaimer:  These pictures are from over a week ago, back when a few leaves still clung to the trees and I was considering late season bulb sales and a final mowing of the lawn.  Things have changed though, and this morning the temperature sits at 16F (-9C) and a dusting of snow is frosting the green and uncut grass.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s still an extremely strong possibility I will breakdown and order more bulbs (and not be able to plant them), what I’m saying is there’s no chance of me going out there and taking more current pictures!

So fall grasses it is!  Here’s Panicum ‘Dallas Blues’, probably one of the top 5 grasses I grow, and also the panicum responsible for changing my low opinion on these native grasses.  These clumps have a cool blue tint all summer, don’t flop, don’t seed, and will now keep this orange tint all winter while the surroundings go tan and grey.  They even bounce back up after a snow. fall color on panicum 'dallas blues'

‘Dallas Blues’ convinced me to try a few other panicums.  I don’t like them as much, but will definitely keep them since they also have their special traits (and they are a PAIN to dig up).  Here’s ‘northwind’, a selection that is unique for its tight upright growth habit.  ‘Northwind’ is also a grass that will stay up all winter and is what I would call an architectural grass.  It’s form makes a nice accent in the landscape…. maybe not in mine, but I’m sure you can do better!miscanthus 'northwind' with blue spruce and mums‘Cloud Nine’ is a big panicum, but I do tend to like my big grasses 😉  This young plant made it up to 7 feet and was a nice explosion of flower heads this fall (a cloud one might say), but I’m not loving the absolutely dead tan winter color.  panicum 'cloud nine'This combo also might be a little too heavy on the dead tan colors.  The Korean feather grass (Calamagrostis brachytricha) to the left looks like it might be dead (I’m hoping it’s not) but the pink muly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) still holds a bit of color.  I’ve heard of the Korean feather grass reseeding, but I don’t think my own plant has started yet (year 3).  The pink muly doesn’t seed at all for me, since this southeast native grass waits so late to bloom.late fall border with grassesThe red color in the last picture is a burning bush (euonymus alata) and its days may be numbered.  Even though they show up in many local landscapes they’re very invasive.  I haven’t seen any seedlings yet, but don’t doubt they’re out there, so next spring I may move one of the blueberries into its spot.  The color is not as intense and the shape is less tight but you get delicious blueberries!blueberry fall foliage‘Skyracer’ purple moor grass (Molinia caerulea subsp. arundinacea) is a top 5 grass.  Up to 6 foot tall seed heads come up out of a neat 2 ft fountain of foliage.  It’s tall yet airy and light, and the yellow fall color hangs on for a while.  If winter comes late and seeds ripen there might be a seedling or two next spring but hardly anything to worry about.  The plant practically falls apart over the winter and is an easy cleanup.

Not so easy to clean up is the miscanthus giganteus growing up against the fence.  It’s a 6 foot fence so this grass is tall even with the drought.  The lower foliage dies off when water is short but I of course like the height.  It will be a pain to remove when it’s novelty wears off, considering this is a 3 yr plant from a quart pot…..molina skyracer and miscanthus giganteusMiscanthus in general are losing their hold on me.  The springtime cleanup is a pain with their tight clumps and I’m starting to think of them as industrial park plants.  They look great there, but might be too much work in my own garden.   I still have a few variegated kinds and who knows what next year will bring, since my fickle crabby self might divide up this porcupine grass (miscanthus sinensis ‘Strictus’) next spring and plant it all over the place.porcupine grass (miscanthus sinensis strictus) late fallPlanting grasses is easy, it’s removing ornamental grasses that’s the problem.  My only advice is sharpen your shovel beforehand, you need a nice blade-sharp tip to make the job almost easy, but even then you really have to put your back into it.  Also watch the seeders.  I’ve evicted the taller Pennisetum alopecuroides because of their reseeding (the real dwarf ones seem to be sterile) and I’m keeping my eye on the Korean feather grass.  Most of the trimmings can be composted, but don’t mulch your daffodil bed with fresh little bluestem mulch, it makes a great grass seedbed and will make you hate your daffodils and weeding them.little bluestem selfsown

Grasses that spread by runners are also something to watch out for.  Despite all the warnings against planting gardener’s garters or ribbon grass (phalaris arundinacea) I did it anyway.  Mine is the supposed-to-be-less-invasive ‘Strawberries & Cream’ but I know that won’t be the case.  Just because I do stupid things doesn’t mean you have to, I’m just a sucker for variegated plants.  -by the way it’s more of a summer grass so by fall it’s fading fast.Phalaris arundinacea 'Feesey's Form' in fall

So did I miss any of your favorites?  ‘Karl Foerster’ feather reed grass is probably my number one, but with all the pictures I’ve already shown through the year I figured I’d give it a rest…. which is what I’m planning to do too now, since the outdoor temperature is still under 20F (-7C) 🙂