Ornamental grass is perennial of the year

What do you like best about your ornamental grasses?

A few years ago the husband became infatuated with ornamental grasses. I must admit that I like them too, but probably for different reasons. He likes the fact that they are low maintenance, and I like that they offer a different focal point when compared with other plants in the garden. My favorites are the Miscanthus varieties, particularly M. sinensis ‘Morning Light,’ because it really does seem to shimmer like the fiber optic lights we see in stores around the holidays, especially when the morning sunlight hits the leaves still coated with droplets of dew.

The husband also likes that the grasses give a tropical look to his fish pond and the way some varieties cascade over the waterfall. I enjoy their tall plumes, some taller than me, waving in the wind. I especially like the sound the grasses make during a light breeze, soft, rustling whisper, soothing and calm.

Miscanthus is not the 2014 Perennial Plant of the Year and as far as I can tell, it never was, but the Perennial Plant Association did name a grass this year, Panicum virgatum ‘Northwind.’

As you can see, not all ornamental grasses are from the genus Miscanthus. Some, like Northwind, are from the genus Panicum. Others are Pennisetum, Carex, Muhlenbergia, Nasella and more. You get the idea. You may or may not care about botanic names for plants, but growers do and it could be useful to keep this in mind when shopping for your favorites.

No matter what their ancestry, grasses are usually divided into two categories, warm season and cool season. Cool season grasses will show new growth early in spring as soon as the temperatures begin to rise. They flower early in the summer and are often planted with spring flowering bulbs such as tulips and daffodils to hide the foliage of these plants once the flowers are gone.

Warm season grasses start to grow much later. For this reason, many gardeners not familiar with their habits could be fooled into thinking their plants didn’t survive the winter.

Northwind is a warm season grass, blooming later in the summer. The flowers are bright yellow plumes that are described as showy. Commonly called switch grass, Northwind is not one of those grasses that falls in mounds like Morning Light. Instead it grows upright to a height of between four and six feet. The leaves are bluish-green and turn brilliant gold in the fall. It is both drought tolerant and doesn’t mind getting its feet wet, which is why it is often recommended for rain gardens.

Paticum grasses are pretty tough. They will grow in just about any type of soil and although they prefer full sun, they aren’t averse to a little shade. If their growing conditions are ideal, the plants will spread by underground rhizomes, but they can also be divided in the spring.

Like most grasses, they should be cut back in early spring before the new growth starts to show.