The Magic of Ornamental Grass

Molinia c. ‘Skyracer’ ( Tall purple moor grass) is a grass I highly recommend for your landscape.  The mounded green, basal foliage grows only about 2′ tall, allowing it to be placed almost anywhere within your beds.  The show begins in summer, when the 7-8′ tall seedheads appear.  Although they are commanding in height, the stems are not dense, offering a see-through quality.  Their stately upright form waves in the slightest summer breeze,  adding graceful movement to your garden.  Skyracer is especially dazzling when it is planted in front of a solid background, or backlit by the sun.

At the Oregon Garden in Silverton, Skyracer is utilized as a drift on a hillside along the path, drawing your eye to the golden seedheads with a clear blue sky background.  (Unless it’s raining, of course)  In a stiff breeze, the seedheads dart in unison like a flock of sand birds.

Skyracer grows well in  containers, and can be moved around the garden to fill in gaps as the season wears on.  The foliage turns a lovely, rich golden color in the fall.

Tall purple moor grasses are native to moist, sunny, open habitats in Eurasia and are hardy to Zone 4.  Although they prefer regular water,  they are quite drought tolerant once established.

Skyracer is a grass that is not only spectacular but durable as well,  gracing your yard for many years.  And,      since it is a relatively slow grower, you won’t need to divide it for several years. The only yearly maintenance is shearing it about 3″ above the ground in early spring, when the new green growth emerges.

So much pleasure, so little work!

When to cut your ornamental grasses back?

ornamental grass in the late fall

With the advent of the first frost, your deciduous grasses will turn a lovely tan color.  Shortly thereafter, I see commercial landscape maintenance people clipping the grasses to the ground in the name of neatness.  I lament the fact that we are missing the very attribute that grasses are famous for- winter structure and interest.

The warm season grasses, such as Miscanthus and Pennisetum, are those that bloom late in the season, with the seedheads lasting throughout the winter,.  On a late fall morning, take a stroll by your grasses and marvel at the seedheads with their glorious frosting of ice crystals, or jewel-like dew.  This scene is doubly wondrous if the grasses are backlit by the sun.  All winter long, the grasses keep their structure, with the seedheads being amazingly resilient to winds, rain, and even snow.

When the leaves have turned tan, they become papery, and rustle in the breezes, adding yet another dimension to your winter landscape.

So, when is the ideal time to cut grasses down?  Certainly, if any of the stems have fallen over or are looking unsightly, then by all means, cut them.  But generally, it’s best to leave the grass intact until you see the new green shoots emerging in the spring.  The clumps of dried grasses will provide food and shelter for the birds and other wild life.  The tops also tend to protect the plant from the ravages of winter.

The time when the new growth emerges will vary according to the spring weather, but usually it’s sometime between late February and mid March.  At that time, shear the grasses off a few inches above the ground.  Depending on the type of grass, and how many you have, the job can be done with hedge shears, or an electric hedge pruner.  If the clumps are large, I recommend tying a bungee cord around it prior to cutting it.  That makes simple work of carrying the bundle all at once to its destination.

The clipping of the foliage allows the sun to penetrate the soil, warming the roots, and getting ready for their next spectacular show.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.