GROW: beneficial ornamental grasses in the landscape | News

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When we hear the term landscape, we often imagine lush flower beds filled with brightly colored flowers. However, the use of ornamental grasses and herbaceous plants can be a great benefit to any landscape.

Ornamental grasses are more than true grasses – they also include close relatives such as sedges, rushes, hardy bamboos and others. Ornamental grasses and herbaceous plants can add a lot of texture and visual interest to the landscape.

There are several reasons why ornamental grasses are an excellent choice for your landscape. For those without the best soil, grasses are adaptable and can grow in poorer soils better than any other garden plant.

Additionally, grasses are relatively easy to grow, which is ideal for the novice gardener. Seasoned gardeners know how labor-intensive gardening can be, so you’ll be happy to know that grasses require little effort to maintain once they’re established. Also, grasses do not have many pest problems.

They have a unique shape and texture compared to many other landscape plants and provide year-round visual interest. In addition to the shape, texture and color that many species provide, they also provide movement as they sway back and forth in the gentlest of breezes. We all know Oklahoma almost always has a pushover.

When selecting grasses, consider their function in the landscape. Will the grasses be used as a ground cover, erosion control, accent, to attract wildlife, as a screen, or even as a lawn substitute? Oklahoma’s unique climate and ecoregions provide many different possibilities and choices when it comes to grasses and their herbaceous relatives.

Ornamental grasses can be planted just about any time of the year, especially container specimens; however, for establishment purposes, cool season grasses are best planted in late summer and fall and warm season grasses in late spring and early summer. Additional watering may be needed the first season after planting.

If you are using several different grass varieties, but be sure to group together those with the same watering needs. Some require very little water once established, while others may need a little more. Most really don’t need a lot of water, except in extremely dry conditions. Overwatering can weaken stems and cause grasses to topple. The same can happen with over-fertilization.

Grasses also offer better value for money as they are easily propagated by division. Some cultivars can only be propagated by division because they produce sterile seeds. Seed propagation is often used with native grasses for prairie restoration or for planting large areas.

As gardening activity heats up over the next few weeks, consider adding some ornamental grasses to spice things up a bit.

David Hillock is a consumer horticulturist with Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension.

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