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Ornamental Grasses

August 2012

QuestionFeatured Story - Late Season Color


AnswerUnfortunately brown is the most common color in many landscapes across our beautiful state, unless someone has been watering. Rainfall has been spotty across the state, and thankfully some yards are finally getting a bit of a break, but it will take more than a few showers to get plants back up and growing. If you do see blooming plants in landscapes, you know they are tough performers to take this summer and stand up to it. If your garden could use a shot in the arm, there is help available at many nurseries and garden centers. Late summer into early fall provides a challenge for many gardeners, but there are some really good perennial plants that bloom every year in late summer or fall. Goldenrod is a late summer/ fall bloomer that has been blooming for a few weeks already, and there are numerous new varieties with bright yellow flowers, that are not invasive. Turks cap (Malvaviscus arborea) is a member of the hibiscus family that annually has beautiful orange flowers which attract butterflies and hummingbirds from late summer through fall. Other perennials that are still blooming are butterfly weed (Aesclepias) with orange blooms, black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia) with yellow flowers, garden phlox in shades of pink and white, purple coneflower (echinacea), blanket flower (Gaillardia), wand flower (Gaura), and Joe Pye weed (Eupatoria). Don’t overlook salvias. Many salvia plants struggled this summer, but should bounce back and shine in the late season garden. From small ‘Black and Blue’ to the large Mexican bush sage, there are some great choices with flowers ranging in color from pink to red, white, blue, and purple. They can be a magnet for butterflies and hummingbirds. And Russian sage (Perovskia), a member of the mint family, is another tough as nails plant with open airy silver gray foliage and purple flowers. Other perennials that are just beginning or will be in bloom soon, include asters, chrysanthemums, Japanese anemones and turtlehead (Chelone). Toad lily (Trycertis) will soon follow along with Autumn Joy sedums. Ornamental grasses also come in all sizes and shapes and are drought tolerant to boot. The foliage is nice all season but it is in the latter part of the year that they begin to bloom and the plumage they put on gives you all fall and winter interest. The pink blooms of purple muhly grass make it a new favorite, but there are many grasses to try. Height can vary from 12 inches to 12 feet, so know the available space before planting the grasses. The only maintenance they need, is being cut back every year in late winter to early spring. Annual varieties like the purple fountaingrass, or the variegated‘Fireworks’, purple millet and fiber optic grass can give you the grassy texture and form, but have to be replanted every season.

February 2012

QuestionIf you have time, I would sure like to know when you would recommend pruning Crape Myrtles, Lantana, Coral Bells, Weigela, and Dwarf Maiden Grass. We planted all these plants last summer.


AnswerThere are several different types of plants you are asking about from annuals to perennials to woody shrubs. Let's start with the woodies. Crape myrtles bloom on new growth. If they need it, prune them before new growth begins in late Feb. Weigelia is a late spring bloomer, but it has its flower buds set now, so prune it after it blooms. All ornamental grasses benefit from a haircut before new growth begins--in late Feb through mid March. Before pruning, check to see how much new growth there is, and then cut as low as possible, without cutting into any new green. Coral Bells--or heuchera ( I assume you mean the perennial--not Coral bell azaleas) is a semi-evergreen perennial. Often you will have some cleanup to do in the spring before new growth begins. Lantana is a summer annual/perennial. In some parts of the state it comes back easier than in others. It is rare to see any lantana resprouting above ground. Usually it will come back from the crown, with the upper portions burned back by winter, so cutting back the dead foliage before new growth begins is beneficial.

November 2005

QuestionWe planted a purplish variety of ornamental grass last summer and it has grown really well. Since we have no previous experience, should we prune it back or leave it to grow all winter? Some neighbors have a different type of ornamental grass and last year they pruned it to the ground and it grew back very beautifully last spring, but they haven't pruned it yet this year. What do you think?


AnswerThere are some fabulous ornamental grasses, and they really shine in the fall and winter landscape. Seed heads and foliage can vary by species. Unfortunately, yours sounds like purple fountain grass to me and it is an annual--meaning it won't come back next spring. While the majority of the ornamental grasses are perennials, there are some exceptions. Almost all of the grasses die to the ground after a killing frost, but we leave the foliage and seed heads for winter interest, cutting them back in late February to mid March to make way for the new season. You can try, but if it is the ornamental millet with dark purple foliage or purple fountain grass with a lighter purple color, both are annuals and you will not have new growth. Enjoy the plant the remainder of the winter.


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