By Cynthia Bee, Conservation Garden Park
Ornamental grasses are the best plants you may not be using in your landscape. Grasses in this category are clump forming rather than spreading and can be as small as 8 inches high or as large as 12 feet tall. If you look at Utah’s native vegetation, there’s an abundance of grasses so including similar shapes and textures in our own yards gives our landscapes some local flavor too. More importantly, ornamental grasses are a source of movement and sound as the wind rustles through their foliage. The seed heads seem to glow in the light of autumn sunsets bringing the landscape alive. While there are dozens of wonderful grasses, here are a few of our favorites for fall.
- Flame Grass (Miscanthus purpurescens)
During the landscape season, this three foot tall by two foot wide grass is a rather non-descript, subtle green. Once nighttime temperatures begin to drop, the blades shift to vibrant shades of red orange making this one of the most remarked upon grasses by visitors to Conservation Garden Park.
- ‘Burgundy Bunny’ Fountain Grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Burgundy Bunny’)
A newer cultivar of the classic ‘Little Bunny’ Fountain Grass that combines the rounded, small form of its parent with a new character trait of burgundy-tipped foliage through fall. 18 inches tall by 18 inches wide.
- Alkali Sacaton (Sporobolus airoides)
Clump-forming perennial grass with lightly sharp-edged, gray-green leaves 18 inches long. In mid summer, produces cloud-like flower pannicles of golden, pinkish bronze above the foliage. Extremely drought tolerant.
- ‘Blaze’ Little Blue Stem (Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Blaze’)
A smaller grass, 2.5 feet tall by 1.5 feet wide, is best planted in groups of 5-7 plants. Unlike the other grasses on our list, this russet-toned grass has stiff, upright foliage.
- ‘Shenandoah’ Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’)
A slower-growing grass that ultimately reaches 4 feet tall by 3 feet wide. In the fall, about half of the foliage changes to a deep burgundy tone creating a lovely effect in the landscape.
- ‘Karly Rose’ Fountain Grass (Pennisetum orientale ‘Karly Rose’)
The pink puff seed heads of ‘Karley Rose’ Fountain Grass emerge in mid-summer and provide a hit of pastel tones through the rest of the season. 3 feet tall and wide.
- ‘Undaunted’ Ruby Mulhy Grass (Muhlenbergia reverchonii ‘Undaunted’)
The foliage of Ruby Mulhy Grass isn’t particularly interesting in fall- it’s the cotton-candy pink seed heads which float frothily above the foliage that makes this newer introduction a stand out.
- ‘El Dorado’ Feather Reed Grass (Calamgrostis x acutiflora ‘El Dorado’)
The most popular ornamental grass is ‘KarlForester’ Feather Reed Grass with it’s bold, upright foliage and wheat-like seed heads. ‘El Dorado’ is a more interesting version of this grass that boasts variegated yellow and green blades that are tinged with pink in the cool season. It’s everything you love about the original– but with much better foliage.
Ornamental grasses are a low-maintenance addition to Utah landscapes the echo the shades and colors of our mountains and deserts while adding texture and movement. Find these beauties, and more, at your local nursery!
Conservation Garden Park is a FREE, 6-acre botanical garden in West Jordan that teaches homeowners how to landscape for Utah’s climate. http://conservationgardenpark.org