Why Ornamental Grasses Are Great For People In Condos And Apartments

Schizacharium Standing Ovation (North Creek)
Schizachyrium ‘Standing Ovation’ maintains a tight, upright habit through the season and has bright, fiery-colored foliage in the fall.

When ornamental grasses debuted many years ago, they were seen as the greatest thing since sliced bread, especially for landscapers and designers. Easy to grow and attractive plants, they’re low maintenance and offer summer color and winter value. They have since become an important component of landscape and garden sales.

However, as gardens have become smaller, ornamental grasses, for the most part, are still bold and bodacious.

We Need To Promote Grasses For Small Spaces

In short, the dwarfing of annuals, perennials, and shrubs has not been as widely accepted in ornamental grasses. Breeders need to do a better job of making growers, brokers, and garden centers aware of better cultivars for the increasingly shrinking garden space.

It is hard enough to get people with lawns and gardens outside their back doors to garden. It is doubly difficult to talk plants to someone on the 10th floor of an apartment building. They have no idea where to start, and low maintenance (read little water) and color is all they want. Let’s help them out.

Grass growers, please include patio/balcony/veranda grasses in your availability list. There is a good number out there; they simply need a separate line item to remind garden centers of their versatility.

Small-Space Grass Options That Look Great In Containers

Here are a few I recommend: All can be grown on their own or as part of combination containers.

Pennisetum Fireworks
Unlike the species, Pennisetum ‘Fireworks’ does not reseed. Variegated stripes of white, green, burgundy, and hot pink run the length of its blades, and purple tassels appear in the summer.

1. Little blue stem (Schizachyrium spp.): In general, all handle verandas and patios well. The best known are ‘The Blues,‘ with handsome blue foliage, and ‘Blaze,’ for good fall color. My favorite, however, is ‘Standing Ovation.’ Zones 3 to 9.

2. Carex: The sedges are gaining more popularity as growers, landscapers, and gardeners recognize their utility. ‘Ice Ballet,’ ‘Ice Dance,’ and ‘Evergold’ all have excellent variegated foliage. For exceptional color, try ‘Everillo’ with its outstanding chartreuse foliage. Zones 6(5) to 9.

3. Northern sea oats (Chasmanthium spp.) has a well-deserved reputation as a reseeder; however, in a container on the veranda, this is no longer an issue. The vigorous growth and the handsome seed heads, are magic 10 stories up. Zones 5 to 9.

4. Gamma grass (Bouteloua spp.) has been around for years, but it was thought of as a green meadow thing — useful, but not particularly eye catching. The introduction of ‘Blonde Ambition’ changed everything. Handsome foliage and cool seed heads make the extra price for retailers worth every penny. Zones 4 to 9.

Carex Evergold
Carex ‘Evergold’ is a deer-resistant sedge with striking, variegated yellow and green foliage.

5. Feather grass (Nassella spp.) is another grass that has not hit the circuit as hard as it should. The flowers are so feathery, you want to put your head down in them. Feather grass is easy to grow and easy to sell in flower. Zones 7(6) to 9.

6. Purple fountain grass (Pennisetum spp.) has always been a favorite. Good old ‘Rubrum’ is still excellent, but for me ‘Fireworks’ is hard to beat. Although, the more I see ‘Cherry Sparkler,’ the more inclined I am to recommend it. Zones 8 to 11.

There are half a dozen more ornamental grasses that fit on balconies, such as quaking grass (Briza spp.), blue lyme grass (Elymus spp.), the rushes (Juncus spp.), and annuals like bunny tails (Lagurus spp.). The point of this column is actually not for me to recommend anything, other than to give those who don’t have dirt outside their window a chance to join us — with some special plants — the grasses.

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