Grasses in the Garden

By Mark Montoya

If you have not yet discovered the beauty and usefulness of ornamental grasses in your garden, now is the time to start looking. By planting grasses now, you give them an opportunity to take hold and flourish up until the first frost.

Dwarf zebra grass provides a backdrop to cleome.

Taller grasses – four to six feet high – can make great screens. One of my clients in Old Cloverdale allowed me to use grasses that are making quite a show right now.  You can check it out at 1875 Galena Avenue, and see a healthy display of miscanthus sinensis variegates (Zebra grass—the tallest variety).

Grasses add wonderful contrast to shrubbery and are easy to grow. However, some need to be contained in pots so they won’t get out of bounds. Horsetail (equisetum hyemale) is one. This plant can grow in hard, dry soil, or in a pot placed directly in a pool of water. Purple fountain grass is very popular in Montgomery, and is perfect in pots surrounded by contrasting flowers.  However, it cannot survive a cold winter.

Grasses need sun (or part sun), make problem areas vanish, and look great when massed together. When planting any grass, I wear gloves and a long sleeve shirt, because some of them are itchy and others can cut your skin. For the most part, the good outweighs the bad, because grasses generally require little water and grow in any soil. Grasses are also very nice in a vase indoors, alone or mixed with flowers.

Check out these other grasses online – all can usually be found locally:  leymus arenarius; cordyline; Mexican feather grass (nassella tenuissima); scirpus cernuus; and liriope muscari variegata.

Mark Montoya is a Montgomery native who first learned gardening from his father. He has designed, planted and nurtured gardens in our city’s neighborhoods — both old and new – for twenty years.

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