Wildflower is published quarterly by the Wildflower Center. Its content is national in scope with articles about the conservation and use of native plants as well as news from the Wildflower Center. A subscription is provided to Wildflower Center members as a benefit of membership.
Grass Roots by Lisa Halvorsen - Winter 2004
As autumn drifts into winter, gardens that were once lush and beautiful fade, leaving a less attractive landscape in most parts of the country. But with a little planning, you can add winter interest to your garden through the use of native grasses and other plants such as sedges and ferns.
While all are attractive additions to the garden during its peak growing period, these plants have an advantage over many flowering perennials because they have year-round appeal. Incorporating them into your plantings will add texture, shape, dimension, contrast, and color throughout the year, even in the months when your garden lies dormant or is less active.
Depending on the variety, grasses can range in color from green and yellowish green to tan or brown and reddish-purple during spring and summer. In fall and winter the color may deepen, for example, to a bronze or burgundy. Some species produce feathery, flower plumes in late summer or early fall, retaining these plumes throughout the winter. Others have wispy blades or interesting seedheads that both add appeal and serve as a food source or perching places for birds and other wildlife.
Ornamental grasses are members of the Poaceae family. They tend to be survivors, adaptable to most soil and moisture conditions, although most will thrive when grown in fertile, well-prepared soil in full sun.
In general, grasses have more impact when grown with other annuals and perennials, including flowering plants, shrubs, and other "non-bloomers," such as evergreen ferns and sedges, than on their own. However, as when choosing any landscape plant, make sure the varieties you group together have similar water, light, and soil requirements and fit the scale of your landscape.
When designing a landscape using native grasses, mix plants with bold and fine textures and complimentary colors. Grasses often are an effective accent to larger specimen plants although when planted en masse can stand alone in a garden setting.
"Clumping grasses work best in most gardens," says Sally Wasowski, author of Gardening with Prairie Plants and Requiem for a Lawn Mower, "because they are well-mannered and generally long-lived."
The effectiveness of using these grasses and other plants to create winter interest will depend a lot on what varieties you choose and where you live.