Careful selection is key to growing and maintenance of ornamental grasses. Photo by Sandy Cortez

Careful selection is key to growing and maintenance of ornamental grasses. Photo by Sandy Cortez

Get It Growing: Ornamental grasses in your garden

Summer is the time ornamental grass really starts to shine. Why should you consider ornamental grasses for your landscape? They are virtually pest and disease free, easy to care for and a gorgeous addition to your garden.

Ornamental grasses are well suited to dry summers and come in many varieties that can be displayed as specimens, hedges, back drops, ground covers or even potted plants. They provide seasonal color and when dry their leaves sound like whispers of or rattles in the wind. Left uncut for the winter they provide lovely places for birds to shelter.

Grasses tolerate most soils and rarely need water once well established. The majority of grasses love the sun but there are a few suitable for the shade or wet locations. Most are also perennial and come back year after year, sprouting from new growth at the base of the plant after being cut back.

Growing and maintaining ornamental grasses are easiest if you take the time to select varieties carefully. When choosing grasses for your garden, be sure to select varieties that are perennial, hardy in your zone and will like the sun or shade of the selected environment.

Visit local nurseries and see what they have available. Since most grow quickly, a small plant soon will fill its space, so there is no need to spend more money buying larger containers. Read the labels and talk to the nursery staff to avoid any of the aggressive varieties.

Also, be certain not to plant any grass that is considered an invasive species.

When planting grasses, add compost or aged manure to make the soil more workable, but these plants do not need further amendments. In fact, if the soil is too rich, the plants can be weak or floppy.

You can enjoy the seasonal changes in your ornamental grasses throughout the winter and then cut them back in spring before the new foliage emerges. They may only need occasional grooming to look good.

However, if they are a self-seeding variety it is imperative to remove the seed heads, leaving the foliage if desired, before they blow all over, spreading to undesired locations. Your neighbors will thank you.

There are a few other considerations when planting grasses. Large grasses can be difficult to move once they are established so be sure you have space enough for the size they will become when mature.

Beware, some grasses spread by stolons, rhizomes or underground roots and can become troublesome in the garden. These varieties can be contained in a sturdy pot or by installing deep barriers in the soil. The best course may be to avoid these varieties in favor of more manageable selections.

A lovely display of ornamental grasses can be seen at the Clallam County Master Gardener Woodcock Demonstration Garden, located at 2711 Woodcock Road in Sequim. The garden, which is open for visitors wearing masks and following distancing protocols. has many varieties including Miscanthus, Calamagrostis (tall straight varieties), Anemanthele (Pheasant Tail) and Molina Molinia (Moor Grass).

Come visit during different seasons to see the ever-changing beauty of ornamental grass.

Janet Oja is a WSU-certified Clallam County Master Gardener and is the area manager of the grass garden at the Woodcock Demonstration Garden.

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