Ornamental Grasses — In Search Of No Maintenance

Ornamental Grasses — In Search Of No Maintenance

I have long contended that people who purchase our plants don’t really care what the plants are, they only care what they do. They don’t buy red begonias because they are begonias, but because they are red–and if we are smart enough, we sell the best red begonia out there. Similarly cannas are popular because of their bold colorful look, not because they are cannas. Margarita sweet potato provides the eye catching element, hostas are popular because they work in the shade, etc., etc.

One of the most significant “what they do” elements is low maintenance. It always has been important and is becoming even more so as the population ages and less time is spent in the garden. Perennials have provided many low-maintenance items and shrubs are ready to burst from the greenhouse onto the landscape if they can be properly positioned at retail. However, if one asks any landscaper about the best group of plants for low maintenance, ornamental grasses will usually be the answer.

Here are my top three grasses for good looks, good flowering, fall color and availability. There are dozens more, but for landscape and new home use, or for people trying to downsize their garden or landscape, these should be on availability lists if perennials are grown. 

Switch Grass

Panicum: To me, the number one up and comer. Easy to grow in containers, and the best of the native grasses to combine upright habit, good flowering and a diversity of cultivars. These can be placed in a garden or landscape in three or three dozen and left alone. Panicum can also serve as a substitute for non-native grasses, especially those that reseed where they are not supposed to. For people working with state and municipal planners (i.e. reclamation, watershed management or ecosystem management), the panicums will become more and more important.

Armitage favorite cultivars: I love ‘Dallas Blue’ if used properly (looks wonderful in mixed containers), ‘Northwind’ for its strong upright growth and ‘Heavy Metal’ for its fall haystack look. 

Feather Reed Grass

Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’: If ever a plant provided long season impact, it is ‘Karl Foerster,’ named for the renowned German nurseryman. Plants are easily available, have a sentinel-like habit, bear dozens of flower stems, start flowering in early summer and remain handsome until they are cut back in the spring. There are a few other choices of calamagrostis, but ‘Karl Foerster’ is still the best by far. 

Eula Grass

Miscanthus: Every one who grows perennials is aware of miscanthus grass, and there is little that I can tell you that has not already been said. It has been around for so many years, one would think it would have had its day. Not a chance–the sheer numbers of cultivars won’t let landscapers forget about it. Short, tall, variegated, striped, spectacular flowers and nail-tough constitution will keep this grass out there for years to come. There had been some loud talk about miscanthus being under the scrutiny of native plant groups and appearing on invasive plants lists in a few states, and that may still be a problem, but it is only the species and a few early flowering cultivars that are causing some problems.

Armitage favorite cultivars: Too many to name but I still think old-fashioned ‘Gracillimus’ is tough to beat for its flower colors and good habit, ‘Huron Sentinel’ for overall good habit and ‘Purpurescens’ for outstanding fall color.

Two other great grasses: Fountain grass, pennisetum, should be considered by anyone in the grass-use business. This group includes annual forms (‘Jester,’ ‘Purple Majesty,’ ‘Prince,’ ‘Princess’) and tough perennials (‘Cassian’ and ‘Hameln’).

Muhly grass: Muhlenbergia is a spectacular pink-flowering grass, however only hardy to Zone 7. But where it can be grown, it is a traffic stopper.

Leave a Reply

More From Varieties...
Poinsettia 'Christmas Joy Marble'

February 20, 2017

5 New Varieties Shaking Up the Poinsettia Tradition

With poinsettias trending toward non-traditional colors, growers may find new opportunities to spread sales beyond the winter holidays. Here are five of the newest euphorbia varieties to hit the market that may play a role in redefining the future of the poinsettia market.

Read More
University of Tennessee trials overview (2015 University of Tennessee Field Trials)

February 19, 2017

2016 University of Tennessee Field Trials Results

Check out the 2016 field trials results for the University of Tennessee Gardens in Knoxville and Jackson, TN.

Read More
Reiman Gardens field trials

February 18, 2017

2016 Iowa State University Field Trials Results

Check out the 2016 field trials results for Reiman Gardens at Iowa State University in Ames, IA.

Read More
Latest Stories
Poinsettia 'Christmas Joy Marble'

February 20, 2017

5 New Varieties Shaking Up the Poinsettia Tradition

With poinsettias trending toward non-traditional colors, growers may find new opportunities to spread sales beyond the winter holidays. Here are five of the newest euphorbia varieties to hit the market that may play a role in redefining the future of the poinsettia market.

Read More
University of Tennessee trials overview (2015 University of Tennessee Field Trials)

February 19, 2017

2016 University of Tennessee Field Trials Results

Check out the 2016 field trials results for the University of Tennessee Gardens in Knoxville and Jackson, TN.

Read More
Reiman Gardens field trials

February 18, 2017

2016 Iowa State University Field Trials Results

Check out the 2016 field trials results for Reiman Gardens at Iowa State University in Ames, IA.

Read More
Syngenta Obsession Cascade

February 15, 2017

Syngenta Introduces Two New Flower Series for 2017

‘Sunfinity’ Sunflower produces multiple branches with numerous flowers that bloom all season long, while ‘Obsession Cascade’ Verbena quickly fills containers with vibrant flower patterns.

Read More
Euphorbia 'Gold Rush'

February 8, 2017

5 Ways to Tie Poinsettias to Lifestyle Trends for Incre…

With poinsettia planning upon us, here are a few ideas to incorporate them into upcoming lifestyle and home décor trends to help increase sales.

Read More
Table setting with begonias for decoration

February 7, 2017

Seasonal Plant Trends for 2017 and Beyond

Aligning your plant sales with popular lifestyle and home décor movements will engage your customers and multiply your profits.

Read More

February 7, 2017

Costa Farms’ Season Premier Presents a First Look at Ne…

The annual event brings breeders, growers, and retailers together to compare new plant varieties and evaluate their performance. Here's a look at some of the new varieties featured in the trial gardens.

Read More
Grateful Heart Rose feature

February 5, 2017

Flower Breeders Making Donations for Heart Disease and …

Companies such as Jackson & Perkins and Proven Winners ColorChoice Shrubs are donating portions of their sales to groups such as the American Heart Association and the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

Read More
Tyler Beasley

February 1, 2017

Allan Armitage California Spring Trials Scholarship Win…

Beasley, a junior at Oregon State University’s Ecampus who also manages a local community college greenhouse, will join Armitage and a team of Greenhouse Grower editors in attending and reporting on the 2017 California Spring Trials.

Read More
IPM Essen Plant Innovations Winners

January 31, 2017

Top New Plants Recognized at IPM Essen in Germany

Winners were announced in several categories in the Innovations Showcase, from flowering houseplants to cut flowers.

Read More
Allan Armitage San Marzano tomato plant feature

January 25, 2017

Allan Armitage Describes Veggies, Shade Plants, and Cli…

Here's a look at plants that could help you with successful growing in 2017.

Read More
Hibiscus Hollywood Gossip Queen

January 24, 2017

29 New Flowering and Foliage Plants from TPIE 2017

The Tropical Plant Industry Exhibition (TPIE) was the place to be Jan. 18-20 to catch a peek at some of the new plant introductions making their first appearance on the market.

Read More
Quick Plug

January 24, 2017

Dümmen Orange Acquires Quick Plug, a Cutting Compost Su…

Quick Plug technology is designed to open up opportunities for automation and robotization of several product groups and add quality to rooted products.

Read More
EPCOT Suntory Princettia Euphorbia

January 23, 2017

Princettia Euphorbias Charm Vacationers at Disney Resor…

Suntory’s Princettia euphorbias have brought a new color palette to the holiday landscapes at Walt Disney World’s resorts and theme parks in central Florida.

Read More
Youngs Plant Farm Trial Garden feature

January 21, 2017

Don’t Miss the Southern Garden Tour This June

Growers, retailers, and all industry professionals are invited to the 2017 Southern Garden Tour, which is hosted by Young’s Plant Farms, Sakata, and Metrolina Greenhouses, and will be held June 6-8.

Read More
Gaillardia 'Mesa Red'

January 21, 2017

2016 Pike Creek Horticulture Center Field Trials Result…

Check out the 2016 field trials results for The Pike Creek Horticulture Center in Kenosha, WI.

Read More
Anna Chernyavsky

January 20, 2017

New Director of Sales for Bedding Plants and Perennials…

Anna Chernyavsky, who joined Danziger in August 2016, will be in charge of the U.S. and United Kingdom markets.

Read More
Hydrangea ‘Endless Summer BloomStruck’ (Bailey Nurseries)

January 19, 2017

Bailey Nurseries Hosting Spring Previews in February

The previews, which provide education, new variety information, and retail support programs, will take place in Illinois, Minnesota, and Boston.

Read More