Create a Stylish, Sustainable Garden with Ornamental Grasses Create a Stylish, Sustainable Garden with Ornamental Grasses

If you need to conserve water, or you just want a garden that virtually takes care of itself, ornamental grasses will give you a beautiful garden without the hassle. There is such a huge variety of grasses available that you can create a whole garden with varied texture, colors and height using grasses alone.

You can even have a bit of a show, as some grass species produce feathery seed heads, known as plumes, and even flower in season.

A garden of ornamental grasses is the perfect choice for a modern, stylish home or a ranch style home where you don't want to spend a lot of time looking after the plants. You can also create an exotic look, with grasses from all over the world at your disposal.

The true grasses are members of the Gramineae family, and come in an abundance of different heights and colors. True ornamental grasses come mainly from the lily family, such as mondo and dianella. These are known as "strappy" grasses because of their thin, strap-like leaves.

Grasses like full sun and well drained soil, although you can find a wide variety of grasses suitable for any soil and weather conditions - they grow all over the world, after all. But if you want your grasses to look their best in your garden, prepare your soil as carefully as you would for flowers.

Grass should be pruned to allow for fresh growth in the spring, but if you prefer to have your grasses standing during the winter, you don't have to do this until early spring.

However, in the late fall, you can remove the plumes and dry them for crafts or home décor. Just cut them with long stalks, tie together in bunches and hang upside down in a cool place. Your dried plumes will look marvelous arranged in tall slender vases and will complement most decorating styles.

When shopping for grasses, look for natives, exotics and new varieties, and be sure to discuss with your nursery expert the best types to grow in your area. You are looking for plants that won't require a lot of attention or special conditions.

Among exotic varieties, Japanese silver grass is very popular for ornamental grass gardens, as it offers an outstanding display in the fall. This grass flowers with white, pink and light red blooms.

For an early green showing in spring, and a brilliant display of plumes later, choose a feather reed grass such as Karl Foerster; for brilliant color in the fall, look at the many varieties of switchback.

Don't overlook the traditional oats and barley, which look wonderful in clumps. A field of barley is such a spectacular sight that Sting even wrote a song about it!

The taller, more traditional grasses make magnificent backgrounds, but with some of the new varieties you can add splashes of color accent as well.

For a magnificent red display, try the new Japanese blood grass Red Baron, with its tall scarlet spikes; for a softer look reminiscent of a cottage garden, there is delicious Elijah-Blue, a new variety of blue fescue with foot long tufts springing out of a brilliant blue base like a firework display.

For sheer cuteness, Rabbit's Tail grass, with its puffy little white plumes, can't be beaten and it is easy to grow from seed.

Since grasses are hardy, you won't need to fuss with them or fertilize as you would with a flower garden. Just a quick scattering of some slow release fertilizer in spring will last all summer.

Mulching around the plants will keep weeds down and will prevent your grasses from reaching out and popping up in unexpected places. Like all plants, grasses should be well watered when they are first put in, but the beauty of a grass garden is that it can take a bit of healthy neglect, and will still look wonderful.

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