Grasses Year Round

- Gerald Filipski

I have become a huge fan of ornamental grasses. Plant breeders continue to introduce new varieties that do nothing but wow me. I was planting some grasses the other day and thought that they would be a great addition to the indoor plantscape. The bonus with most of these grasses is that they are so adaptable to just about any condition. In other words, to use a term of mine, you can’t kill them with a hammer. They are practically indestructible, and they look fantastic in many applications.

They would be very versatile for the condo or apartment gardener because they can be grown outdoors in the spring and summer, brought indoors for the fall and winter, and put back out again the next spring. Cost efficient, versatile, and beautiful — what more can you ask for? One of the main reasons for my love of grasses is the ease of growing them and keeping them happy. I have even managed to overwinter a couple of my grasses outdoors!

Let’s begin with containers. The right container can make or break a grass. With so many decorative styles on the market today, this choice is very much a personal one and one that you should spend time on. Look around for a container that looks just right. If your grass is gold and edged in green, for example, a high gloss, black container would look great. If the grass is rusty brown in colour, then a bright yellow container would do the trick. The idea is to compliment and contrast the grass. Today, container gardening is very much about the pots themselves because they can add so much to a design. If you are going to bring the grasses indoors in the fall, then choose a container that is light enough to transport. Many of the cast resin types look like much heavier ceramic or terra cotta containers but weigh a fraction of the real thing.

Ornamental grasses come in many varieties that include tall, medium, and short heights and a myriad of colours including shades of green, gold, brown, red, purple, and white. Grasses can stand on their own when it comes to landscape design. In other words, you only need grasses to create an appealing and very interesting container garden. A single tall grass in the background with two to three medium-height grasses and three to five short varieties in front can turn a dull corner of a deck or balcony into a thing of beauty.

Requirements are few when it comes to these undemanding plants. They prefer a well-drained soil, so a good quality potting mix is a must. There is no need to fertilize during their first year of growth. After the first year, I add some slow-release fertilizer pellets on top of the soil. This way each time I water, the plant gets fertilized. The pellets can last for up to three months, so this also makes for a low maintenance garden. Grasses like to be watered on a regular basis but many are drought tolerant and can go for longer periods of time without water than most annuals. Now having said that, this does not mean they can go for days and days, but certainly many can go for two days without moisture.

In the fall, it is a simple task to bring in your grass arrangement or single plant inside and enjoy it right through the winter.

Some of my favourite newer grasses that you might like to try include:

  • Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’ — Golden Japanese Forest Grass — 14 inches high and 16 inches wide. Leaves are bright yellow with narrow green stripes. Full sun to part shade. This plant has a habit of cascading over the sides of a container. Spectacular plant.
  • Carex ‘Prairie Fire’ — 12–18 inches high and wide. Partial to full shade. Leaves are green/bronze that erupt into a gorgeous red colour. Upright growth and an excellent container plant.
  • Carex ‘Bronco’ — 10 inches high and 14 inches wide. Leaves are medium-brown/bronze. Habit is cascading. Full sun.
  • Festuca glauca ‘Boulder Blue’ — Boulder Blue Fescue — 6–12 inches high and wide. Spiky, clump-forming habit. One of the bluest grasses on the market. Striking in a dark black pot.
  • Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ — Karl Foerster Reed Grass — My favourite background grass grows to 5 feet tall and can spread 30 inches, but it won’t get that large in a container. Grassy leaves are green in colour and can often turn tan in fall. The plant has plumes of rose-coloured flowers rising above the foliage in mid summer. The tan seed heads are carried on showy plumes from late summer right through to late winter. You can leave the seed heads on or cut them off when bringing indoors.

Remember that thinking outside of the “pot” can bring new-found pleasures in your garden or home.

Gerald Filipski continues to wow us with his gardening ideas. Jerry has been writing for us for six years and for the Edmonton Journal for many more years than that.