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COLUMN: Consider ornamental grasses in your landscape

Rosanne LoParco
Sentinel columnist
Posted 8/28/22

Striking foliage, plumes of blossoms, and motion -- ornamental grasses are rewarding landscape plants.

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COLUMN: Consider ornamental grasses in your landscape


Striking foliage, plumes of blossoms, and motion -- ornamental grasses are rewarding landscape plants. Grasses have something to add that no other plant can, motion. They sway in the breeze, adding movement along with sound as they rustle in the wind.

Types of grasses

Most are perennials, but some are annuals because of their natural growth or lack of hardiness for this area. Grasses can be clumping or spreading. Be careful with spreading varieties which can expand rapidly via above or below ground stems. Ornamental grasses are either cool season or warm season.

Cool season varieties will peak in the spring; whereas warm season varieties will take time to reappear in the spring, grow during the summer, and peak in the fall. Grasses can range in height from 6 inches up to 15 feet! Do your homework before selecting one. Grasses do have flowers; though not traditional flowers, they can be showy and colorful along with interesting seed heads.

Growing needs

Most varieties will need well drained soil and full sun. Keep the plants well watered for the first few weeks, but after that, these plants are drought tolerant. Fertilize when you first plant them; after that, ornamental grasses need very little fertilizer if any. Since most varieties look great in winter, don’t cut them back until early spring. Some varieties may need to be cut with hedge shears or a weed eater with a brush-cutting blade. Don’t worry about hurting them – they are a fearless plant!

Ornamental grasses have few pest problems; the biggest issue can be the grass itself if it’s the wrong type and planted in the wrong place. Grasses grow fast, some approaching full size one season. Be sure to consider the mature size of the variety before placing in your garden.

Native varieties

When choosing an ornamental grass, look at native varieties first. Native grasses play their part with pollinators. The Perennial Plant of the Year for 2022 is a native bluestem grass ‘Schizachyrium scoparium’ or Little Bluestem. This grass is hardy to Zone 3. It has short clumps of green to blue-green leaves, topped by flowering stems. This grass also provides great fall color in shades of red, gold, or copper.

Little Bluestem is a tough and dependable grass that blends well with other plants. Little Bluestem is also a larval host for a variety of butterflies and moths. For more ornamental grasses native to New York State, visit the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation website to download a copy of Native Plants for Gardening and Landscaping, which includes several ornamental grass varieties; visit

Some spreading grasses are invasive. Avoid Chinese Silver Grass or any ‘Miscanthus sinensis’ cultivars. These can spread via underground runners and quickly take over a space. The NYS DEC website provides a brochure on invasive plants, including grasses, and suggestions on what to plant in their place; visit

Several varieties of ornamental grass are on display at the Parker F. Scripture Botanical Gardens. Come out and visit! For more information on anything gardening, don’t forget to visit our website at

Cornell Cooperative Extension Oneida County answers home and garden questions which can be emailed to or call 315-736-3394, press 1 and then Ext 333. Leave your question, name and phone number. Questions are answered weekdays, 8am to 4 pm. Also, visit our website at or phone 315-736-3394, press 1 and then Ext 100.


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