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Ornamental Grasses

by Debbie Roland, Master Gardener, Compost Specialist

Landscaping has changed in the last twenty years. As West Texans have become conscious of conserving water and preserving the native habitat, wildflowers and native plants have become popular. Formal, squared-off landscape designs are fast becoming a thing of the past.

One of the new trends, along with perennial flowering plants, is the use of ornamental grasses in the landscape. Grasses are no longer just to walk on. Almost all ornamental grasses are perennials, coming up in spring, from their roots. Whether you’re planning a new landscape or rejuvenating an established one, ornamental grasses can add pizzazz. Many have tall, beautiful plumage. They are versatile and carefree in ways that few other plants can match.

Photo courtesy of Reznik Orthodontic

Ornamental grasses usually perform unfailingly. Many are native to U.S. soils, so they need no special treatment. Remarkably resilient and able to tolerate hot and dry summers to the point of drought. Once established, they require a minimal amount of care. They need little pruning during the growing season and have virtually no disease or pest problems. Since I recently saw two mule deer just north of Odessa, I feel like I should point out that deer tend to avoid them.

Plant them with cannas and other large-leaved plants for a striking effect. Small ornamental grasses are great lining a planting bed. Choose the taller ones for use as a backdrop for other plantings. Most of these grasses need lots of sun to perform well.

In time, grasses can get rather untidy as old dead foliage is left among the new living leaves and seed heads. Cleaning them up will really keep them fresh and attractive.

In late winter, prior to the onset of new growth, trim the clumps back to about 12 inches high depending on the original size of the plant. Use the trimmings for mulch around the garden or compost them.

I use an electric hedge trimmer for this job and prefer to wait until late winter to trim so I can enjoy their beauty in the winter rather than look at the stump-like clumps all winter long.

Ornamental grasses can be divided almost any time of the year. The best time to divide the clumps is in late winter to early spring. Simply dig a clump and then use a shovel with a sharpened edge or a sharp butcher knife to cut the clump into several sections. Reset them at the same level they were growing previously and water them in well.

If you haven’t incorporated ornamental grasses into your landscape, what are you waiting for? There is at least one that will work perfectly for you. As always, call the AgriLife office in Ector 432-498- 4071, or Midland 432-686- 4700 with your gardening questions.



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