New Infertile Ornamental Grasses for Better Blooms

Ornamental grasses continue to enjoy increasing popularity, and we at Emerald Coast Growers are excited about the new work being done in the field. Breeders continue to select and develop for more robust plants and enhanced color show, but one of the trends we’re most excited about is the development of infertile grasses for better blooms.

Miscanthus for Adding Drama to the Landscape
Of course, grasses specifically bred to be infertile remove concerns about any localized self-sowing, but along with this convenience come the added benefits of vigorous growth and gorgeous extended color from summer to fall. Many of the genera chosen provide strengths that breeding, in turn, enhances. For example, Miscanthus, or maiden grass, is known for adding drama and structure to the landscape, and new cultivars capitalize on those benefits and take them to the next level.

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One of our favorite new varieties is Miscanthus sinensis ‘Scout,’ which salutes gardens with slender green blades and white midribs that take on spectacular, warm amber fall color. It boasts beautiful, infertile plumes that reach a height of 6 feet. ‘Scout’ does not self-sow, so you can plant it anywhere sunny, in any combination. It is hardy in Zones 5 to 10. The variety comes from the University of Georgia’s (UGA) esteemed breeding program, which has become even more prolific in recent years.

Another new infertile Miscanthus comes to us from North Carolina State University: ‘Bandwidth.’ Its upright, broad, bright-gold bands span rich green blades. ‘Bandwidth’ forms full yet tight, compact stands that reach a height of just 2 to 3 feet, and it is hardy in Zones 5 to 10. In three years of trials at multiple locations, it kept impressing us, and it even stood up to Florida’s summer heat.

Pennisetum for Long-Lasting Blooms
We’re also seeing huge developments in the Pennisetum world from the UGA program. The breeder’s New Orleans roots are showing in four new infertile varieties with very long bloom times. It’s one of our favorite collections, and not just because we enjoy Cajun cuisine.

First on the plate is ‘Hush Puppy,’ an infertile Pennisetum alopecuroides with oblong pink plumes that spray high over rounded mounds of slender foliage. It is a long-flowering, infertile fountain grass that won’t reseed. This variety reaches about 30 inches tall and spreads to about the same width.

Check out its infertile cousins, too: ‘Cayenne,’ ‘Etouffee,’ and ‘Jambalaya’ — they’re sure to satisfy.

‘Cayenne’ has big, dark-red bottlebrush plumes that rise above mounds of rich-green arching blades.

‘Jambalaya’ grows in a lovely mounded habit and produces large, long-lasting, silver-pink blooms from late spring to mid-fall. And ‘Etouffee’ blooms with light pinkish-brown plumes from late spring to mid-fall, forming a lovely mound. All are excellent in containers and landscapes alike (the largest reaches only 42 inches tall), and they are hardy in Zones 5 to 9.