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The graceful grasses.

They're easy to grow and useful in your garden... as edging, accents, ground covers, focalpoints

THE CURRENT RAGE in Western gardens, ornamental grasses are here to stay, according to landscape designers and nursery people. Their beauty and versatility have long been recognized in Europe, and more recently on the East Coast. But given their adaptability, these perennials are in their element in the West.

Thanks to the increased diversity and availability of grasses in nurseries, it's easy to capitalize on their attributes. Here we feature ornamental grasses and sedges selected for low to moderate water needs and noninvasiveness. Our chart, which lists the grasses by foliage height, will help you use them to fill almost any design niche or environment in your garden.

You'll find low-growing grasses to serve as edging and ground covers (bulbous oat grass, sedges, fescue), towering grasses with strong silhouettes for accents and focal points (eulalia grass, yellow pampas grass), and midsize grasses to mass together or mix with flowering perennials in beds and borders (giant blue wild rye, blue oat grass, fountain grass).

Because of their fine linear structure--ranging from upright to arching--grasses catch light and wind as few other perennials can. They glisten in early-morning and late-aftcrnoon sun, and introduce movement and sound to otherwise rigid plantings.

When selecting grasses, evaluate them as you would other perennials. Consider their ornamental qualities (color, variegation, flowers), growth habits (pendulous, mounding, vertical), growth and bloom seasons, light requirements, and water needs.

Since many are deciduous, plan so adjacent plants compensate with flowers or foliage when grasses go dormant.

INVASIVENESS--A CAUTION

Some ornamental grasses, such as Cortaderia jubata pampas grass and Pennisetum setaceum fountain grass, have become tenacious weeds that threaten native plant habitats and invade urban open space. The grasses listed in our chart are not considered invasive in the West. However, many are new here, and their potential as weeds is not yet fully understood.

Some grasses, such as Miscanthus sinensis, do not spread in summer-dry gardens but may self-sow with overhead irrigation. To help keep grasses in bounds, use drip irrigation, and water TABULAR DATA OMITTED only the plants' root zones.

If your neighborhood borders a native plant community, don't plant grasses that may self-sow, and consider using only those native to your area. For a list of native grasses to plant, check with a local botanical garden or native plant nursery.

PLANTING AND CARE

Fall and spring are the best times to plant grasses. Nurseries most often sell them in 1-gallon containers.

Minimal soil preparation is enough for most grasses, but some, like blue oat grass and fox red curly sedge, require excellent drainage.

Plant the grass so the soil level is the same as it was in the container, and water well. Mulch to conserve water and suppress weeds. Where gophers and rabbits are pests, protect plants with wire baskets and fencing.

Most ornamental grasses thrive in fertile soil, although too much nitrogen may force rapid, weak growth and delay flowering. Use a complete, controlled-release fertilizer according to label directions.

In all but the hottest inland climates, most grasses featured here require water no more than once a week. Some are drought tolerant and thrive with little or no summer water; most of these still tolerate regular summer watering. Even drought-resistant species need frequent watering until they are established.

Carex and Miscanthus get by with weekly water, but are larger and more vigorous if watered more frequently.

All grasses are best watered by drip irrigation. Because it directs water to roots, this method conserves water and reduces weeds (including grass seedlings). Overhead water may damage grass flowers, and massive foliage may prevent the spray from reaching roots.

Though grasses are low-maintenance plants, deciduous types look neater with a yearly trim. In addition, dried grasses or plants allowed to build up a thatch of dead foliage can be a fire hazard.

Use a power weed or hedge trimmer or heavy shears to cut grasses back to a couple of inches above the crown. As a general rule, cut winterdormant grasses when new growth shows at the base, usually in late winter or early spring. You can also cut actively growing grasses to force new foliage.

Every three years or so, divide overgrown clumps or clumps with outward growth and bare centers. For most types, the best time to divide is early spring.

MAIL-ORDER SOURCES

Nurseries commonly carry many of these grasses. Two California sources offer a wide selection by mail:

Greenlee Nursery, 310 E. Franklin Ave., Pomona 91766; catalog with growing information, $5. Plants are shipped September through May.

Ya-Ka-Ama Native Plant Nursery, 6215 Eastside Rd., Forestville 95436; send $1.50 for a price list.
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:ornamental grasses
Author:Lincowski, Emely; Ocone, Lynn
Publication:Sunset
Date:Feb 1, 1993
Words:781
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