Blades of Fall: Ornamental grasses for autumn interestPosted by in Autumn Garden
As the autumn sun glows, casting a coppery glaze across landscapes, our summer flowering shrubs, once full of energy and verve, now seem a bit antique in appearance. The verdant green foliage of firebush and nandinas are now scorched with bronze and scarlet. Spring flowering ‘Fashion’ and ‘Midnight Flare’ azaleas look almost as if dipped in chocolate with their mocha and crimson infused leaves. Japanese maples, along with swamp red maples and Virginia willows don themselves in fiery orange red, as they brilliantly ignite late autumn landscapes. Bring out the intensity of your patio and garden this fall by integrating ornamental grasses.
The willowy limbs of sedges like ‘Toffee Twist’ and ‘Cappuccino’ magnificently soften landscapes with their refined textures. Ornamental millets like ‘Jester’, ‘Purple Baron’, and ‘Purple Majesty’ boldly assert their fall flair with their thick bands of burgundy and hints of chartreuse, while more subtle fall bloomers like Muhlenbergia, ‘Red Bunny Tails’, and ‘Pink Crystals Ruby’ grass gracefully temper fall beds with their delicate pinkish purple spikes. Whether you are looking to improve holiday pumpkin displays, or you simply need more color for your garden, ornamental grasses prove perfect for fall landscapes.
‘Toffee Twist’ sedge (Carex flagellifera), an outstanding cool season grass, is praised for its compact habit and sinuous glowing leaves. Reaching only 18 to 24 inches tall, and stretching two feet wide, ‘Toffee Twist’ is rather cavalier in posture, as its slender tufts sweep casually toward the ground. ‘Toffee Twist’ thrives in full sunlight and well-drained soil, and needs little upkeep, as it needs to be trimmed only once in early spring. Its elegant russet colored leaves, though understated in summer flowering gardens, remarkably come to life in autumn beds, as they reticently contrast surrounding shrubs like ‘Purple Diamond’ loropetalums, ‘Shi-Shi Gashira’ camellia sasanquas, and ‘Firepower’ nandinas. Maintaining a well kempt, sprawling form, ‘Toffee Twist’ can be integrated in patio containers as well as flowering landscapes.
Plant ‘Toffee Twist’ sedge singly in slim ceramic pots on either side of your front door to illuminate your porch for visitors, or mix them in large containers with golden yellow strawflowers, tricolor sage, and ‘Sunsatia Mango’ nemesia. Complete your fall display with potted crotons, hay bales, and pumpkins. If planting ‘Toffee Twist’ in the landscape, bring out their golden brown limbs by setting them against bolder backdrops; the robust wine red leaves of loropetalum, barberry, and millets like ‘Jester’ and ‘Purple Majesty’ can certainly elicit the softer tones of ‘Toffee Twist’. Integrate also lower lying color like ‘Amazon Neon Purple’ dianthus, giant red mustard, and ‘Black Velvet’ petunias for greater fall interest.
For a slight variation on ‘Toffee Twist’, consider planting ‘Cappuccino’ grass (Carex tenuiculmis). Similar to ‘Toffee Twist’, this handsome sedge sports slender arching foliage, but with a more upright habit. Standing 10 to 12 inches tall, its limber leaves are faint emerald, suffused with cinnamon, making it excellent for fall plantings and displays. Incorporate this alluring auburn sedge near ‘Moonbeam’ or ‘Crème Brule’ coreopsis, ‘Harvest Moon’ Echinacea, ‘Red Bor’ ornamental kale, and pink muhly grass.
‘Red Bunny Tails’, (Pennisetum messiacum), an exciting new grass that boasts exquisite fall color, averages two to three feet tall and spreads two feet wide with silken burgundy green foliage. Elliptical amethyst plumes, reminiscent of bunny tails, strikingly highlight the burgundy-tinged foliage from summer through fall. Although red bunny tails is hardy to zero degrees F, this warm season grass goes dormant in the winter. Get the most out of this thrilling beauty by planting it in early spring, and enjoy its persistent blooms through late autumn. Great for cut flower and dried arrangements, patio containers, and landscape plantings, red bunny tails remain unmatched in their versatility. Underline their cottony mauve tails by incorporating red bunny tails near pink muhly grass, red flowering fountain grass, and ‘Purple Pixie’ loropetalum. Heighten your fall display by including ‘Red Bor’ ornamental flowering kale, as well as ‘Amazon Cherry’ dianthus, and ‘Camelot’ foxgloves.
Consider also planting ‘Pink Crystals Ruby’ grass (Melinus nerviglumis) for outstanding fall color. This undersized flowering grass packs big punch, as its lean supple blades reach only two feet tall, before sending forth elusive stems of ruby pink plumes. Their fuzzy blossoms gracefully swoop downward, arching to show off their tiny glimmering crystals. Like the red bunny tails, pink crystals ruby grass is a warm season cultivar that blooms mid spring through fall, and should be grown as an annual where temperatures drop below 20 degrees F. Heighten your front porch or patio by planting pink crystals ruby grass in containers with sweet alyssum, ‘Sunsatia Cranberry’ nemesia, and ‘Chocolate Ruffles’ heuchera. Incorporate this ruby flowering grass in the landscape as well by planting it near ‘Shi-Shi Gashira’ camellia sasanquas, ‘Siskiyou Pink’ gaura, and giant red mustard.
Pink muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris), a longstanding favorite for spectacular fall blooms, is an upright clumping grass that averages three to four feet tall. Its fine blue green blades are virtually nondescript much of the year, until bursting into bloom in October and November. Airy clouds of mauve pink fireworks explode for weeks, thrusting this inimitable grass at once into center stage of your landscape. These sparkling amethyst blooms look sensational not only in the landscape, but also as cut flowers. Arrange them with other fall favorites like ‘Autumn’ fern, snapdragons, erysimum, or dianthus to enjoy their beauty indoors. Although muhly grass goes dormant in winter, employ it as a warm season border or natural wall if privacy is needed around patios or pools. Muhly grass makes a stunning accent to grasses like ‘Fireworks’ pennisetum, red flowering fountain grass, and red bunny tails. Further heighten their wine red blooms by incorporating them near ‘Firepower’ nandinas, ‘Purple Diamond’ loropetalum, and ‘Sonnet Burgundy’ snapdragons.
Enliven your fall plantings with ‘Jester’ ornamental millet (Pennisetum glaucum). This bold new millet offers distinct foliage color like no other. Fresh leaves emerge vivid chartreuse, holding a tantalizing burgundy overlay. As ‘Jester’ matures through the summer, the leaves are coated in rich bronze purple, giving it a similar look to taller millets like ‘Purple Majesty’ and ‘Purple Baron’.Gorgeous burgundy flower spikes, speckled with creamy white, rigidly stand from late spring through fall. ‘Jester’ averages three to four feet tall, and spreads 14 inches across. Hardy to 32 degrees F, this heat-loving millet should be grown as an annual in our region or brought indoors for winter protection. Make sure to include ‘Jester’ in any of your fall pumpkin displays featuring hay bales, cornstalks, crotons, and ‘Toffee Twist’ sedge. Emphasize the lime green and plum red foliage by integrating ‘Marguerite’ sweet potato vine, Swiss chard, and ‘Montego Bronze’ snapdragons.
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