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...
Dr Allan Armitage

June 25, 2016

Three Types Of Plant Consumers To Watch

There are three emerging groups of plant consumers that you should be targeting for plant sales in the future, according to Allan Armitage.

Read More
FleuroStar Award Ceremony

June 20, 2016

Begonia Hybrid ‘Miss Malibu’ Takes Home FleuroStar Award

The award from Fleuroselect was announced at the Green Inspiration Event in Amsterdam.

Read More
Caryopteris 'Beyond Midnight Bluebeard'

June 20, 2016

Keep The Sales Coming With 16 New Blooming Varieties For Fall

Plants that put on a show from first frost long into fall and offer the color options consumers want for their gardens go a long way toward extending sales further into the season and can help maintain your sales momentum going strong. Check out these 16 new blooming varieties, both traditional favorites and new alternatives, for your fall crop selection.

Read More
Latest Stories
Dr Allan Armitage

June 25, 2016

Three Types Of Plant Consumers To Watch

There are three emerging groups of plant consumers that you should be targeting for plant sales in the future, according to Allan Armitage.

Read More
FleuroStar Award Ceremony

June 20, 2016

Begonia Hybrid ‘Miss Malibu’ Takes Home FleuroStar Awar…

The award from Fleuroselect was announced at the Green Inspiration Event in Amsterdam.

Read More
Caryopteris 'Beyond Midnight Bluebeard'

June 20, 2016

Keep The Sales Coming With 16 New Blooming Varieties Fo…

Plants that put on a show from first frost long into fall and offer the color options consumers want for their gardens go a long way toward extending sales further into the season and can help maintain your sales momentum going strong. Check out these 16 new blooming varieties, both traditional favorites and new alternatives, for your fall crop selection.

Read More
'Osaka' Flowering Cabbage (Sakata Ornamentals)

June 18, 2016

Mark Your Calendar For Sakata Seed Trials In August

Sakata has set two dates for its California-based trials: Aug. 15-17 in Salinas, and Aug. 17-19 in Woodland.

Read More
Tomato Congress Logo

June 15, 2016

International Tomato Congress In Mexico Will Focus On G…

The event, which takes place in San Luis Potosi from July 20-22, will feature discussions on production strategies, cost management in protected structures, and optimizing your greenhouse environment.

Read More
Nir Nursery Wax Flower Pot Plant

June 14, 2016

Danziger Reaches Deal To Distribute Nir Nursery Varieti…

With the agreement, Danziger becomes the exclusive distributor of Nir’s product line, which includes cut flowers, foliage, pot, and garden plants.

Read More

June 14, 2016

Dümmen Orange Expands Its Succulent Offerings Through N…

According to Dümmen Operations Director Kate Santos, succulents are an attractive growth category because of their ease of use, shelf life in stores, drought tolerance, and versatility in application.

Read More
'Osaka' Flowering Cabbage (Sakata Ornamentals)

June 14, 2016

New Cool Season, Vegetable, And Foliage Crops For Fall …

Whether you’re providing pansies and violas to the garden center for fall color or decorative edibles to grace patio containers, consider these 16 varieties for fall crop sales, newly introduced for 2016 and hitting retail in 2017.

Read More
Calibrachoa Chameleon Sunshine Berry (Westflowers) - Feature

June 9, 2016

Fall Crop Alternatives That Can Increase Your Sales

There’s a lot of competition for grabbing your share of fall mum sales. Give your program a boost with new varieties that complement traditional fall crops.

Read More

June 7, 2016

It’s Time To Rethink The Value And Timing Of Cali…

Fourteen years ago, Greenhouse Grower saw an opportunity to bring next-day coverage of California Pack Trials (now California Spring Trials or CAST) to your inbox. The objective was to be your eyes and ears on location, to report the debut of the newest varieties and marketing programs, and report major breeder announcements, especially for those not attending. We continued to develop new story-telling tools with video capabilities, slideshows, and more. And once social media took hold, everyone attending CAST became reporters of their favorite varieties and displays at trials. So we’re left with the question — how should we continue to evolve our coverage, to bring the most value for you? It’s easy to fall into a certain pattern, to stick with what works — or seems to work. And just because you’re working really hard at something that you’ve had success with in the past, it doesn’t mean it’s […]

Read More
Carex 'Eversheen' (Hoffman Nursery)

June 7, 2016

Hoffman Nursery Has A New 30-Year Anniversary Look!

The new redesign of the Hoffman Nursery website packs in more content than ever with updated resources and 30 years of experience growing grasses.

Read More
GG June Cover image

June 6, 2016

The State Of Plant Breeding In 2016

Breeding companies look to strengthen their competitive advantage, easing the way for growers to procure new plant varieties and for consumers to grow with confidence.

Read More
Petunia Queen of Hearts

June 1, 2016

Danziger Introducing New Petunia Amore Series, And More…

Danziger “Dan” Flower Farm is planning to introduce 60 new varieties from its 2016-17 collection at the annual event, including petunias, bidens, and calibrachoa.

Read More
Nathan Lamkey Chuck Pavlich Allan Armitage talk about muckgenia

May 31, 2016

Allan Armitage: Three Trends (Good And Bad) That Caught…

We need to put the same energies we invest into California Spring Trials to get plants into consumers’ hands and encourage young people in the industry to attend.

Read More
National Garden Bureau California Vegetable Summer Trials

May 26, 2016

California Summer Vegetable Trials In August Will Cover…

The National Garden Bureau is once again organizing summer vegetables trials this August in California, giving attendees the opportunity to visit with several breeding companies.

Read More
Eason 2017 Perennials Guide

May 25, 2016

Eason Horticultural Resources Releases New Perennials G…

The two guides are available in digital and print versions and offer information from several breeders.

Read More
Echinacea ‘Butterfly Rainbow Marcella’

May 25, 2016

15 New Perennials For Bees, Butterflies, And Other Poll…

These 15 new perennials, available for retail in 2016 and 2017, will produce colorful flowers and foliage year after year, providing habitat and food for bees, butterflies, birds, moths, and other pollinators.

Read More
P.Allen Smith Cut Flowers

May 25, 2016

Sakata Seed America And P. Allen Smith Extend Partnersh…

Sakata is taking its partnership with plantsman P. Allen Smith a step further to create the P. Allen Smith Home Grown Cut Flowers Collection, a selection of premium cut flower seed hand-picked by Smith and bred exclusively by Sakata.

Read More
[gravityform id="35" title="false" description="false"]