By Saif Malik

Autumn is on the verge of beginning and the splendid autumn grasses have motivated  me to publish on them. These ornamental grasses are splendid in autumn but they can really transcend any season. Many of these grasses like Ravenna, Calamagrostis and tall Miscanthuses, can be left standing all winter. They perform elegantly in the garden for almost ten months of the year when they are cut back in very early spring to spur them intio another season's growth. Some of Carexes and other few retain their color for the whole year.

They are increasingly used in parks and public plantings, commercial landscaping of office buildings and even fast-food restaurants. They are quite easy to maintain, like they are cut back close to ground once a year and incidentally provide good attractive material for mulching. The best thing about these grasses is to observe them grow and change with the season. Additionally they grow very rapidly.

The elegant heights of these grasses make them conspicuous and well-suited for every type of garden. The appeal of these grasses lies mainly in their diversity.
Holcus mollis 'Variegatus', commonly known as variegated velvet grass for its green and white striped leaves with pinkish overtones and for its downy texture, grows no more than six inches high. It spreads a bit, but Festuca ovina 'Glauca' forms little domes or mounds, also low to the ground at about eight inches.

Holcus mollis 'Variegatus

Festuca ovina 'Glauca' 

Festuca ovina 'Glauca'

Carex morrowii 'Variegata' forms not a mound but a mop.

Carex morrowii 'Variegata'

Grasses of intermediate size include Helictotrichon sempervirens, which makes spiky clumps about three feet high, with leaves arching gracefully at their tips.

Helictotrichon sempervirens

There is also Pennisetum alopecuroides or fountain grass, which grows around 3.5 to 4 feet tall and produces an abundance of feathery, pink-toned flowers in late summer. Fountain grasses never overwhelm its neighbors in border. Growing them around yuccas for contrast make a nice combination.

Pennisetum alopecuroides or fountain grass

Pennisetum alopecuroides or fountain grass

Among the miscanthuses, Miscanthus sinensis 'Gracillimus' which grows between four and six feet tall and makes a fine upright accent in a border.

Miscanthus sinensis 'Gracillimus'

Calamagrostis acutiflora 'Stricta', with soft green leaves that weep slightly, forms a mound. In midsummer its narrow, erect, silvery pink flower spikes rise to five feet.

Calamagrostis acutiflora 'Stricta'

Calamagrostis acutiflora 'Stricta'

These grasses also vary widely in their color, both in a single species over the span of the year and from one species to the next.

The leaves of Miscanthus sinensis, a good shade of green in late spring and summer, gradually change to light tan as the autumn gets on, and its pink flower tassels go through several transformations, changing to pale, pale gold, then to straw, and finally to light beige.

Lyme grass (Elymus canadensis), a spreading and stoloniferous low plant that is tough enough to grow, is a pale gray-blue.

Lyme grass (Elymus canadensis)

Some of the fescues and blue oat grasses (Helictotrichon semperviens) are still bluer. 

Pennisetum setaceum 'Burgundy Giant' has extremely handsome purple leaves.

Pennisetum setaceum 'Burgundy Giant'

Miscanthus sinensis 'Purpurascens' develops red tints in summer and by early  October is almost scarlet.

Miscanthus sinensis 'Purpurascens'

Miscanthus sinensis 'Purpurascens'

Panicum virgatum 'Rubrum', the red switch grass, shows reddish tones in the summer and turns crimson when night begin to cool down.

Panicum virgatum 'Rubrum', the red switch grass

Panicum virgatum 'Rubrum', the red switch grass

The champion of all the red grasses is Japanese blood grass (Imperata cylindrica 'Rubra'). Its leaves are dark burgundy for half their length at least from the time they first emerge in the spring. The color deepens in September and spreads to the entire length of the leaves. It is ensational when grown in combination with silver-stemmed Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) and blue oat grass.

Japanese blood grass (Imperata cylindrica 'Rubra')

Another Carex, Carex buchananii, is more of a novelty than a thing of beauty.

Carex buchananii

Besides their subtle colors, ornamental grasses bring to the garden the important elements of movement and sound.

About author: Saif Malik is a Landscape horticulturist, well equipped with lot of professional exposure and experience. Along with landscaping/gardening work, he's founder, publisher & editor-in-chief of
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Copyright Hortist, 2013

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Hortist is a sustainable source for landscape horticulture news, solutions and resources, managed by a Landscape horticulturist from Pakistan. Hortist reports on importance of this very unique niche and how it improves the landscape of this world and lives of its inhabitants.