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Ornamental Grasses for Every Climate and Style

by Marcia Passos Duffy, All About Lawns Columnist

There are two ornamental grass types: Warm and cold season grasses. What you plant depends on how you would like your garden to look with the ornamental grass foliage. The University of Illinois recommends selecting warm or cold season grasses according to your plant hardiness zone and the look you hope to achieve in your garden.

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Cool Season Grass

Cool season grass starts growth in the spring, when temperatures warm to above freezing. These ornamental grasses flower by early summer, after which growth slows down. Plant cool season ornamental grass with spring flowering bulbs--like tulips and daffodils--for a showy springtime display. Cool season grasses thrive in northern climates where the growing season is short. These grasses require frequent division to keep them healthy.

Cool season grasses include:

  • Alopecurus
  • Calamagrostis
  • Deschampsia
  • Elymus
  • Festuca
  • Helictotrichon
  • Koeleria
  • Sesleria

Warm Season Grasses

Warm season ornamental grass grows later in the spring and flowers from mid to late summer until frost. While these grasses thrive in warmer weather, some varieties survive cold temperatures--check with your local nursery for the types of warm season grasses that can withstand winter in your region. These grasses look great as a backdrop or alone when combined with a variety of other grasses--even cool season grass. Warm season grasses require less division maintenance.

Warm season grasses include:

  • Andropogon
  • Bouteloua
  • Buchloe
  • Chasmanthium
  • Miscanthus
  • Molinia
  • Panicum
  • Pennisetum
  • Schizachyrium
  • Sorghastrum
  • Sporobolus
  • Stipa

Penn State cautions that ornamental grasses should not be planted near a house or garage unless you are dedicated to removing the dried foliage before winter, as it can ignite quickly and presents a fire hazard.

With a little research at your local garden center, you can find an ornamental grass that's just right for your landscaping needs and preferences.

About the Author

Marcia Passos Duffy is a freelance writer and a member of the Garden Writers Association. She is a frequent contributor to Turf Magazine and Growing Magazine. Visit her site at www.backporchpublishing.com

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