What are the Best Ornamental Grasses in the Midwest?
Ornamental grasses have been around for a long time, but only over the last several years have they become such a prominent feature in the landscape. Landscape/Horticulture professionals have come to recognize not only the hardiness and easy care of ornamental grasses but also the versatility and amazing beauty they provide. We’ve talked to our customers who told us what their favorite grasses are and why. Let’s take a closer look at three of the best-selling ornamental grasses in the Midwest.
Best Selling Grasses in the Midwest
Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’-pronounced (pen-ih-see’-tum) (al-oh-pek-yur-oy’-deez) (hah’-muhln) This Pennisetum, commonly known as Dwarf Fountain Grass, is one of the most popular Pennisetum cultivars. Landscape professionals like it because of its small size which makes it a nice option to use in the landscape as an accent or border plant. It grows to 1.5-2.5 feet tall and equally as wide. Another noteworthy characteristic of this plant is during its blooming period of August through October. The pinkish-white, wheat-like spikes shoot out of the compact, clump foliage as if it were water shooting from a fountain. This grass is a great plant in dry areas as it requires minimal water once it gets established and is a good option in a rock garden as well as being an all-around low maintenance and pest free plant. It provides movement in the garden as the wind blows and performs best in full to part sun. It is very eye catching when used in a mass planting. Additional uses include border fronts and small areas in the garden as well as in containers and are very suitable when used as groundcover. It also grows well in moist locations around water gardens or low areas. The hardiness of Pennisetum ‘Hameln’ ranges from zones 5-9. Although it is not especially known for its winter interest, Pennisetum ‘Hameln’ does provide seeds for the birds and is very useful as a dried flower.
Calamagrostis acutiflora 'Karl Foerster'-pronounced (kal-uh-muh-gros’-tis) (ack-you-tif-flor’-uh) commonly known as Feather Reed Grass, ‘Karl Foerster’ is one of the top selling grasses in the region. It is appreciated by horticulture professionals because it can be used in a wide range of climates and soil conditions. ‘Karl Foerster’ is very versatile when it comes to moisture because it can grow in dry areas as well as wet areas with its overall size correlating to the amount of moisture it receives. It is considered a medium size grass growing 3-5 feet tall and 1.5-2.5 feet wide. Gardeners like this particular grass because it is one of the first grasses to start growing in the spring and is an excellent choice for a displaying a fabulous vertical effect in the garden among low growing shrubs and perennials. It sways gracefully in the breeze making it a nice asset to enjoy around the pool or patio. Additional attributes of this grass are the pinkish- purple colored blooms beginning in summer and changing to a beige color in the fall making it a great choice for fresh and dried arrangements and a stand out in container plantings. It has good fall color and attracts birds in the winter which lends itself to being a multi-season plant. This grass grows best in full sun and is hardy in zones 5-9 and like the typical ornamental grass it is virtually pest free and very low maintenance. ‘Karl Foerster’ was named Perennial Plant of the Year in 2001.
Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus’-pronounced (mis-kan’-thus) (sin-en’-sis) (gra-sil’-lim-us). This ornamental grass, commonly termed Maiden Grass or Eulalia Grass, is one of the oldest cultivar of Miscanthus and still very popular in today’s gardens. Landscape and horticulture professionals frequently recommend this hardy grass (zones 5-9) because it’s a beautiful plant that makes an excellent screen and is an economical option in comparison to some of the evergreen choices. It is considered a large grass that reaches 4-7’ tall and 3-6’ wide and needs a lot of room to grow. One of its many features and certainly a significant one is its fine textured, narrow green leaves that have a thin silver-white line down the middle. Its vase shape and arching leaves make it a very gracefully flowing grass that is extremely eye catching in the landscape. As grasses are usually known for their winter interest this one is no exception. Plumes begin appearing in late summer (later than most Miscanthus cultivars) with an attractive reddish-copper tassel fading to a fluffy, cotton-like silver-white color in winter with foliage turning the color of straw. As with most other ornamental grasses ‘Gracillimus’ grows best in full sun to bright shade (it will flop in too much shade) and tolerates a variety of soil conditions from sandy to heavy clay, but preferring a well-drained moist soil. Take advantage of this ornamental grass by using its plumes and foliage for cut flower and dried flower arrangements during the fall and winter before cutting foliage back to the ground in late winter.
Grasses are great plants that add interest to the landscape in every season. There are many varieties to choose from as well as various sizes, shapes and colors. The ornamental grasses presented above are three of the best and most popular in the Midwest because of their hardiness, availability in the marketplace and most importantly because they add such a beautiful asset to the garden. Find which ones work best for you and be sure to add them to your landscape pallet.