Ornamental Grasses Can Add Beauty to Your Landscape
Fountain grass Pampas grass
Fountain grass is valued for its colorful fruit heads, and is an asset to any garden. It can reach 6 feet in height. Pampas grass is grown throughout Alabama. Reaching heights up to 15 feet, this grass has a fountain-like appearance.

If you are planning landscape renovation, you may want to consider adding ornamental grasses. The term is used to describe all grasslike plants including sedges, reeds, rushes and many others. All of the varieties and species have become popular in recent years.

Ornamental grasses are highly resistant to problems caused by diseases and insects and require little to no pruning. They also are tolerant to heat and drought. The two main requirements of grasses are full sun and a well-drained soil.

Ornamental grass species grow to various sizes. Some grow to 10-15 feet while others are dwarf plants mainly used for ground covers. Most ornamental grasses can stand alone when used as a focal point or as an accent plant, especially when the plumes of several species can be seen. They also can serve other functions, such as a unique screen for privacy.

The following is a short list of many grasses available with a description of their forms and growth habits:

***Pampas Grass: A striking species of grass from South America. It first was introduced to the United States in the middle of the 19th Century. Pampas grass is hardy throughout Alabama, growing in upright clumps of dense tufts with numerous long, narrow strap-like leaves. Pampas grass often will reach 10-15 feet in height and has a fountain-like appearance when seen from a distance.

Long stems bear the large, showy 2- to 3-foot silvery white flower plumes that appear in the fall, towering above the leaf mass.

Pampas grass grows in a variety of soils, getting best results when planted in well-drained areas with full sun. The grass is most effective when grown as a single specimen, but several can be grouped together for a soft-looking background accent or as a screen. Many people find the most appealing feature of this plant to be its handsome fountain-like profile.

The plumes can be dried for use as winter decoration. Simply cut them when they are fully developed in the fall and place them in a container of sand to dry indoors.

***Red Baron Japanese Blood Grass: This grass is smaller, growing 12-18 inches tall with beautiful blood-red foliage in the late summer and fall.

***Maiden Grass: One of the most popular ornamentals in the South, this grass has many cultivars with specific growth habits and landscapes characteristics. This grass can reach heights of 6 to 8 feet.

***Zebra Grass: This grass has leaves banded with yellow and reaches heights up to 10 feet.

***Fountain Grass: Valued for its colorful fruit heads. The foliage is about an eighth of an inch wide. The gracefully arching lines of this ornamental's foliage make it excellent for any garden, growing up to 6 feet tall.

***Hardy Sea Oats: If you are looking for a mass planting or a specimen plant, Hardy Sea Oats is a good choice. This rich green ornamental spreads by underground creeping rhizomes, growing from 2 to 5 feet during spring and summer. It dries during the fall and in the winter dies to the ground. The seed heads from this beautiful ornamental are excellent in dried arrangements and in the landscape they gracefully dance in the breeze.

SOURCE: Dr. Dave Williams, Extension horticulturist, Alabama Cooperative Extension System (334) 844-3032.

Prepared by Kenny Smith, Communications intern