Ornamental Grasses: A Melody of ColorPosted by in Garden Flowers
Let the sounds of summer echo through your garden and reverberate deep into the heart of nature. June lends itself to a symphony of sounds with the low murmur of bumblebees, the spirited songs of cardinals and blue jays, and the soft rustles of limbs atop live oaks and crape myrtles that gently blow with each breath of wind. Ornamental grasses, nature’s own version of wind chimes, provide a magnificent harmony as well, since with the slightest puff of air, each blade gingerly kisses the next, while rhythmically swaying to and fro. Grasses like miscanthus, Pennisetum and Muhlenbergia can offer aesthetic value to your landscape, pleasing both in sound and appearance—their billowy habits instantly soften flowerbeds while at the same time soothing the senses.
Ornamental grasses grow in almost any size, shape, or color, so whether you are looking for something tall and domineering like ‘Cosmopolitan’ or ‘Pampas’ grass, or you desire a cultivar more subtle and refined such as ‘Hameln’ grass or fescue, your options are virtually infinite. Incorporate them as solitary accent plants within flowerbeds, or utilize them as natural borders along your house. This summer, embellish your landscape with the luxuriant hues and textures of ‘Zebra’ grass, ‘Cosmopolitan’ grass, Muhlenbergia, ‘Fireworks’ Pennisetum or ‘Cappuccino’ Carex.
Zebra grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’) is an exotic warm season cultivar native to Japan and China. Its iridescent lime green leaves are handsomely banded with lemon yellow, bringing an exciting new twist to the realm of grasses. Although this grass goes dormant in the winter, its narrow arching leaves majestically stretch almost six feet tall, creating a fountain of colors from mid spring through autumn. Stalks of wheat-like flowers add to the show when they bloom from July through much of October. Because of its versatility, zebra grass can be planted almost anywhere; keep in mind though, that for best coloration, you should give it at least six hours of direct sunlight and fertilize it regularly during the growing season. Plant them as screens in the backyard (remembering that their foliage will be lost in the winter) or employ them as backdrops for bedding plants like sweet potato vine, coreopsis, coneflowers, and periwinkle. Consider also integrating zebra grass alongside ponds or as accent plants near loropetalum, dipladenias, or ‘Knockout’ roses.
Another ornamental grass that shows off spectacular summer color is ‘Cosmopolitan’ grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Variegatus’). ‘Cosmopolitan’ grass sports bold thick-textured leaves with broad creamy stripes separated by slender green medians. One of the best variegated grasses for Louisiana, this outstanding variety reaches six to eight feet tall and can dominate any landscape challenge it meets. Similar to its relative, ‘Cosmopolitan’ grass yields an abundance of white feathery plumes from late summer though fall. For a spectacular display, incorporate this upright growing variety with purple fountain grass, red ‘Knockout’ roses, or ‘Calypso’ oleanders. Exceptional green cultivars of Miscanthus sinensis include ‘Maiden’ grass and its dwarf relative ‘Adagio’, both of which prove durable for our area.
Purple muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaries), a native to North America, is one of the most attractive warm season grasses in the South. Its slender needle-like foliage firmly points upright from spring through autumn, reaching a comfortable height of four feet. Found mostly in the coastal uplands and the beach dunes, muhly grass often looks its best when planted near pools and water gardens. Different from many other ornamental grasses, Muhlenbergia defers its blooming until the fall. From late September through November, clouds of purple silk drift elegantly atop the wavering green spikes, creating a spectacular show of color that cannot be surpassed. Get the most out of its fall performance by employing ‘Burgundy’ loropetalum as a backdrop to the amethyst haze.
A phenomenal grass that works well in conjunction with Muhlenbergia is Pennisetum setaceum ‘Fireworks’, a newly released hybrid of the admired purple fountain grass. This variegated sport boasts a range of hues from white and green to glittering hot pink, depending largely upon the outdoor temperatures. ‘Fireworks’ Pennisetum is an annual grass that performs excellently in both containers and in flowerbeds. It grows almost three feet tall and sends forth tantalizing purple tassels from mid summer through autumn. ‘Red Frill’ caladiums, ‘Empire Salmon’ salvias, and ‘Jaio Red’ vincas dramatically add to its striking show of color.
Add an exotic flavor to your garden with ‘Cappuccino’ grass (Carex tenuiculmis). This exciting cultivar speaks for itself with its subtle but bold colors and texture. Its long narrow leaves gracefully arch 12 to 15 inches tall, while spreading two feet across. Leaves are infused with a sultry mix of green and cinnamon year-round and are best accentuated when planted in front of shrubs boasting rich textures like ‘Dwarf Salmon’ oleanders, ‘Frost Proof’ gardenias, and ‘Fashion’ azaleas. Brighten your plantings of ‘Cappuccino’ grass with the glowing yellows of sunflowers, coreopsis, rudbeckia, esperanza, or ‘New Gold’ lantana.
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