Grasses For The Next Generation

Grasses have been growing in popularity the past two decades thanks to their beauty and functionality in the landscape.

A wide variety of grasses emerged as a solution to a multitude of issues, including extreme drought, growing deer populations, poor soil fertility and extreme heat.

“I would speculate the more widespread use of ornamental grasses in
landscapes over the past 10 or 15 years was spurred on initially by drought and water-use restrictions across the United States,” says Susan Martin, Walter’s Gardens. “Once people saw how grasses thrived under these stressful conditions and how graceful they could look in a landscape setting with little care, more people gave them a try. People love to plant what looks good in their neighbor’s yard, so once they catch on, it’s an easy sell from there.”

Grasses have uses from borders to specimens and masses, as well as in containers for their swaying beauty and stark contrasts to flowered ornamentals.

“They add texture, beauty and elegance to a garden – and mostly they are easy to grow and quite tough,” says Art Cameron, a horticulture professor at Michigan State University and director of the MSU Horticulture Gardens. “Gardeners are now awake to the possibilities. They are the perfect plant group to set off the ‘new American garden.’”

Horticulturist Rick Darke, who wrote “The Encyclopedia of Grasses For Livable Landscapes,” paints a telling picture of the importance of grasses in future lanscapes – and not just for their beauty, either. Many are self-sowing and create more sustainable landscapes, he explains.

“If you believe in global warming, the likelihood is if we look forward 30 years, we will probably have temperatures in the urban East where many of our indigenous plants will no longer be able to tolerate our urban heat,” Darke says. “Miscanthus, for example, is one that will be able to tolerate that heat. There will be a time when we’ll be looking from the global palette for plants that will provide ecosystems.”

And while maintaining ecosystems is vitally important, it’s not the only purpose grasses could potentially serve.

The Beauty Of Function

Grasses have a wide palette of functionality, from creating a screen to keeping out nosy neighbors to acting as a beautiful focal point for visual interest in fall and winter months. They also have more utilitarian uses like filtering heavy metals from industrial sites and the potential to create a sustainable energy source.

Some varieties of grasses, including miscanthus and panicum, are being
investigated as biofuels, which could be an additional revenue stream for growers. Certain varieties also have the ability to sift impurities from water and reduce water use in the landscape.
But not all grasses are made for every region of the country, and a fundamental understanding of what works where goes a long way to helping the grower and the retailer be successful with sales. For example, a plant like Muhlenbergia capillaris (hardy pink muhly grass) is native from the mid-Atlantic Coast to the Gulf but has proven to be a good grower even for California and Santa Fe, N.M. Others, like certain types of reseeding miscanthus and panicum, can be invasive depending on the area of the country.

These grasses, however, can get a bad rap even though they can work perfectly well in many landscapes. It’s only in certain locations that they become an invasive noxious weed.

“It’s important to know the difference between an invasive noxious weed and a native grass where that’s its natural habitat to reseed itself,” says Pamela Straub, account executive for Emerald Coast Growers. “Sometimes reseeding is an advantageous characteristic. There’s a proper use for each grass; the key is knowing what that is.”

Selling For Success

At Emerald Coast Growers, the number one question Straub gets deals with the size of the pot: What’s the right size for a specific plant?

“Often what I hear growers are doing is choosing the wrong grass for the wrong sized pot,” she says. “It’s really important to grow in the right size pot. The longer the pot and shelf life, the longer that grass will remain looking attractive to sell.”

Both Martin and Straub recommend backing up the production and sales cycle of cool-season grasses, too, so retailers are stocked in late spring when those products look their best in pots.

“Even though the main sales window for ornamental grasses is late summer and fall, not all grasses are at their prime during those months,” Martin says. “In general, the earlier you can encourage a home gardener to plant a grass, the more likely their overwintering success will be.”

Examples of cool-season grasses include calamagrostis, festuca and helictotrichon, while warm-season grasses include miscanthus, cortaderia, panicum, pennisetum and others. Warm-season grasses should be ready for late-summer and fall retail sales.

Education is incredibly important to encourage growth in the grass segment, and Cameron advocates creation of point-of-purchase materials and signage to relay the benefits of these plants. Displays can go a long way to show how grasses act in the landscape and in mixed combinations, as well.
One other piece of advice Straub offers is to know your customer and tailor your grasses to their needs. For example, if the customer is a landscaper working with commercial or municipality projects, the answer might be larger specimens, like a version of panicum, miscanthus and schizachyrium, to name a few. Growers who cater to independent retailers may find boutique grasses like types of carex and juncus to be more popular.

One final consideration is the increasing focus on sustainability by younger generations. “They’re super into sustainability and into native grasses,” Straub says of Generation Y. “Breeders are making selections out of native grasses for high ornamental value, and that’s a great way to market a native plant.”

And it seems that greater dialogue about the functionality of grasses is paramount to the success of growers and retailers.

“You have to be able to grow with the marketing of it and talk about their
usefulness,” Darke says. “Any grower simply talking about ornamental grasses are dead in the water because it’s not the future – it’s just part of it. There will always be grasses grown for beauty, but that’s just part of it.”

Leave a Reply

More From Varieties...

May 25, 2017

Genetically Modified Petunia Update: Breeders Take Swift Action, USDA Requires Import Authorization

Now that the initial shock of genetically engineered petunias is wearing off, breeders continue testing for tainted stock and look toward the future. On the consumer side, uncertainties remain.  

Read More

May 23, 2017

USDA-APHIS Bulletin on Unauthorized Distribution of Genetically Engineered Petunias

On May 2, 2017, USDA-APHIS was informed that an orange petunia variety was potentially genetically engineered and had been imported and moved interstate without required authorization by APHIS. This led to testing of numerous petunia varieties, which confirmed this particular variety and several others are genetically engineered, and meet the regulatory definition of a regulated article under APHIS regulations. APHIS continues to work with the industry to ensure unauthorized GE petunias are not distributed in the United States.

Read More
Petunia F1 African Sunset from American Takii

May 22, 2017

Genetically Modified Petunia Update: Question and Answer with AmericanHort’s Craig Regelbrugge

AmericanHort’s key role interfacing with the USDA on the recall of genetically modified petunias has helped the horticulture industry rapidly address the problem. Senior Vice President Craig Regelbrugge talks about recent updates, the impact on the industry, and where it goes from here.

Read More
Latest Stories

May 25, 2017

Genetically Modified Petunia Update: Breeders Take Swif…

Now that the initial shock of genetically engineered petunias is wearing off, breeders continue testing for tainted stock and look toward the future. On the consumer side, uncertainties remain.  

Read More

May 23, 2017

USDA-APHIS Bulletin on Unauthorized Distribution of Gen…

On May 2, 2017, USDA-APHIS was informed that an orange petunia variety was potentially genetically engineered and had been imported and moved interstate without required authorization by APHIS. This led to testing of numerous petunia varieties, which confirmed this particular variety and several others are genetically engineered, and meet the regulatory definition of a regulated article under APHIS regulations. APHIS continues to work with the industry to ensure unauthorized GE petunias are not distributed in the United States.

Read More
Petunia F1 African Sunset from American Takii

May 22, 2017

Genetically Modified Petunia Update: Question and Answe…

AmericanHort’s key role interfacing with the USDA on the recall of genetically modified petunias has helped the horticulture industry rapidly address the problem. Senior Vice President Craig Regelbrugge talks about recent updates, the impact on the industry, and where it goes from here.

Read More
Eason 2017 spring trials report

May 16, 2017

New California Spring Trials Report Now Available From …

The report features genetics from 21 different breeding companies and information gathered from the 15 different stops on this year’s tour.

Read More
Schizachyrium scoparium The Blues

May 13, 2017

How Ornamental Grasses and Sedges Can Play a Role in Po…

Grasses and sedges provide food, shelter, and support for pollinators and the birds and mammals that keep insect populations in balance.

Read More
Asclepias with a bumblebee

May 8, 2017

How to Choose the Best Native Plants for Pollinator Gar…

The popularity of native plants is rising as gardeners become conscious of the need to plant more pollinator gardens. The challenge is to select the right plants to put in them.

Read More
Allan Armitage Of Naked Ladies and Forget Me Nots

May 2, 2017

Allan Armitage: How Growers Can Be Creative to Take Gar…

Our industry does a good job of making things convenient for our customers. It’s time to take it a step further.

Read More
Asclepias tuberosa

April 29, 2017

Greenhouse Growing Tips for Asclepias tuberosa

Madeline Maynor, Growing Operations Manager for Landenberg, PA-based North Creek Nurseries, shares greenhouse growing tips for Asclepias tuberosa, the 2017 Perennial Plant of the Year.

Read More
Andropogon gerardii Blackhawks (Intrinsic Perennial Gardens)

April 25, 2017

Kelly Norris: Diversity is the Key to Growing the Ornam…

Offering a selection of ornamental grasses that cater to customer needs will keep sales from stagnating.

Read More

April 25, 2017

41 New Vegetative Petunias From California Spring Trial…

With the abundance of new introductions for the 2018 retail season, we’ve made it easier for you to sift through them by separating out the vegetative petunias from the Northern sites, which includes selections from Westhoff Flowers, Sakata Ornamentals, Danziger, Proven Winners, and Syngenta flowers.

Read More
Begonia Spectre Silver Terra Nova Nurseries

April 20, 2017

Terra Nova Nurseries Releases Two New, Attractive Begon…

Stardust is the latest addition to Terra Nova Nurseries’ existing T Rex Begonia series, and Silver is the first introduction to the company’s new Spectre Begonia series.

Read More

April 18, 2017

Cool Combos From CAST 2017 – Editor’s Choic…

With container gardening becoming more of a lifestyle among consumers than a trend, and breeders continuing to put more effort in container mixes and components, I feel I would be remiss if I didn't share some of the special combinations that not only caught my eye at California Spring Trials, but absolutely took my breath away and made me want to immediately get started gardening.

Read More
Danziger New Hires

April 16, 2017

Danziger Invests in Continued North American Business G…

As part of a new business structure for its North American market, Mike Fernandez has been appointed Market Manager North America for Bedding Plants and Perennials, and Kate Zvara was named as Key Account Manager and Retail Specialist.

Read More
Florida Flower Trials

April 12, 2017

Looking for Info on New Varieties for Hot Climates? Che…

The Florida Nursery Growers and Landscape Association’s Florida Flower Trials, which are focused on new and improved varieties able to thrive in the extremes of Florida’s climate, are a great opportunity to connect with national breeders.

Read More
Lupinus Staircase Series (Green Fuse Botanicals)

April 11, 2017

Begonias, Celosias Among Dr. Allan Armitage’s Favorites…

Check out some of Allan’s top picks from his final day at CAST 2017, which included visits to Green Fuse Botanicals and Floranova.

Read More
Rex Begonia container mix at Green Fuse Botanicals

April 11, 2017

Green Fuse Botanicals’ Rex Begonias and First Looks; Fl…

Here are the highlights from Green Fuse Botanicals and Floranova on the last day of CAST 2017.

Read More

April 7, 2017

Hort Couture Wows With Farm to Table; Florist Holland R…

On the last day for GroLink and the second to last for the Greenhouse Grower team, the wealth of genetics, marketing programs, and announcements were pleasing to our eyes, ears, and hearts.

Read More

April 7, 2017

California Spring Trials Day Five: Notable New Plant Va…

See some of the new varieties for 2018 displayed at Ball Horticultural and GroLink Plant Company on day five of California Spring Trials 2017.

Read More