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By Trey Pitsenberger, co-owner Golden Gecko

One of the most pleasing sites in the landscape must be the wind blowing the leaves of ornamental grasses. There is something refreshing and relaxing about watching the leaves of grasses that become animated with the action of the wind upon them. When large fields of grasses are moving, it’s quite like watching the waves upon the ocean.

Ornamental grasses started to gain in popularity a few years back and continue to attract people with their unique contribution to the garden. Ornamental grasses add a vertical accent that counterbalances the rounded look that many shrubs posses. Every yard can benefit from the addition of ornamental grasses.

When we speak of ornamental grasses we will exclude lawns or bamboos. Some of the most popular ornamental grasses range in height from 8 inches to 6 feet plus. The most popular ornamental grass the last couple of years has been Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’. Commonly known as Purple fountain grass is has reddish brown leaves and rose-colored plumes that fade to beige. Purple fountain grass grows to about four feet tall and wide and grows in the full sun. Unlike the species, it will not go to seed and become invasive. It is generally hardy in Auburn and elevations below, but will die in the winter at higher elevations. It will go deciduous where it lives thru the winter, like many grasses. When the leaves on grasses start to look poor in the late fall, simply cut them off at the ground level. They will reemerge in the spring. Purple fountain grass looks especially nice with orange or yellow plants such as Rudbeckia, the Gloriosa daisy or Lime mound spirea.

For a tall green leafed grass suitable for background plantings or as a transition from landscaped areas to more natural areas try Miscanthus ‘Gracillimus’ or Maiden grass. It is among the most showy and liveliest looking of the ornamental grasses. Narrow dark green leaves form a graceful clump six to eight feet tall and wide. This grass bears coppery plums that mature to a cream color. In the fall the leaves have a bright orange color. It looks especially showy against a background of dark evergreens. Try the dwarf form of Miscanthus in containers for a stunning look. It will grow only three feet tall.

In the shade were you need a bright, low growing plant try Liriope ‘Silver dragon’. Growing to about one-foot tall it has green leaves that are silvery striped that seem to shine in the shade. I like to use it as an informal groundcover or edging along a walkway. Liriope ‘Silvery Sunproof’ grow the same height, but has leaves striped yellow. It produces lilac blooms that rise well above the foliage. Liriope adds a casual relaxed look to shade garden that is quite refreshing in the warm summer months. Liriope are evergreen, even in the winter. Japanese Forest Grass, Hakonechloa, is a deciduous grass for the shade that is one of the best. Green leaves have yellow stripes to 14 inches tall. This is a very graceful plant that should find a place in every shade garden or container planting for the shade. The above grasses are just a small selection of the many that are available today. Sun or shade, ornamental grasses will provide a nice vertical accent in any garden.

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