Indian River County Extension Service
                                     1028 20th Pl, Suite D
                                     Vero Beach, FL 32960
                                           772-770-5030
                                     Indian@mail.ifas.ufl.edu

                                                                                                                                           

Daniel F. Culbert, County Extension Director                                        Press Release Date November 3,  2002

Indian River County Agriculture Extension Service

 

NOT ALL GRASSES ARE FOR TURF

 

            Grasses are for lawns, right?  Not so, according to Robert Bowden - who has spent many years working with them, but not around the football field.  He is the Director of the City of Orlando’s Leu Gardens.  I had the privilege to introduce him to last week’s 22nd annual Florida Master Gardener Training Conference at the University of Florida.  His  informative program on ornamental grasses for Florida is the basis for today’s column.

            Ornamental grasses are becoming popular additions to our Florida Yards, and according to Bowden, are likely to add excitement to local landscapes.  They can provide dramatic differences in form, texture and color, and if chosen correctly, are easy to maintain.  Many of these featured plants can also handle drought or excessive rainfall.

            These are not your typical mowed grasses, but are plants than can range from six inches to fourteen  feet in height.   Ornamental grasses can be used in Florida Yards as accent plants, ground covers, border edging, and can even screen out undesirable views.  They can grow as clumps or can spread like their turfgrass cousins, providing for different landscape effects.

            In combination with other plants or flowers, ornamental grasses can be the right plant for the right place.  Their foliage can range in color among the many possible shades of green.  Some kinds of leaves are colored with shades of blue, red, brown, or may even be striped with white variegations.  The flower spikes or seed heads can be attractive in their own right, with colors and textures that appear at specific times of the year.

            And,  they can add sound to the landscape as breezes move through the dried foliage and seed heads.  Rustling leaves can add a audible appeal to landscapes as long as the urge to clip dead or dormant leaves is kept under control.

Growing ornamental grasses

            These accent plants grow from either seed or by dividing up the clumps.  They do not transplant or propagate well after midsummer.   For most of these grasses, dead foliage should not be cut down to the ground until mid spring.  Mr. Bowden suggests that late spring shearings may be accomplished by the use of a machete or, if the stems are real woody, consider a chain saw. 

            There are some things to be careful when adding ornamental grasses to your Florida Yard: if the plant spreads by runners (called rhizomes), place these specimens where their spread can be confined, such as in a planter box or in an area surrounded by sidewalks.  More popular kinds of ornamental grasses are the clumpers that increase by suckering.  These grasses may require division every two to three years to encourage vigorous new growth.

Ornamental Grasses for Indian River Yards

            Many of the ornamental grasses that are popular in other areas are not well adapted to our local climatic conditions.  Below is a short list of suggestions from Mr. Bowden that should work for our local landscapes; I’d recommend that you ask for them by the botanical name, and the common names differ from place to place.

                     Reed grass (Arundo donax) is a giant grass that can towers to five or more feet in height.  While it may be invasive due to its running habit, in Bowden’s experiences, is does not escape. A variegated form also exists, and another species (A. formasanais) with more graceful habits, has been used as part of I-4 roadside plantings in Orlando.

                     Wild Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium)is a short clumping grass than works well under South  Florida conditions.  The seed heads look a bit like that of oats, and for locals, it’s seed may remind us of a smaller version of our native beachfront Sea oats. 

                     Pampas Grass (Cordedaria selloana) is a popular ornamental grass that has several different cultivars.  Silver Comet is a form that has variegated leaves, but it lacks the signature plume-like seed head found on conventional cultivars.  Most Pampas grasses become too tall in the landscapes, and can become a fire hazard and can harbor palmetto bugs if placed too close to buildings.  There are dwarf cultivars of Pampas grass under development that will only reach five feet in height.  And since they don’t do well in alkaline soils, consider using these grasses in containers.

 

                     Wild Rye (Elymus magellanicus) is a beautiful clumping grass that reaches up to 18 inches in height.  It likes a little shade, and is best adapted to areas north of our area, but it may he useful as a short term accent in our area.

 

                     Japanese Blood Grass (Imperata  sp.)“Red Baron” may be mentioned as a possible ornamental grass, but it should not be planted in our area. It behaves much like the roadside weed, Cogongrass, a real invasive challenge to control in roadsides and natural areas.

                     Cosmopolitan (Miscanthus sinensis) forms five foot tall clumps with outstanding variegated foliage.  Most ornamental grasses with variegated foliage suffer from a fungal disease called rust, which shortens the life of these specimen plants.

                     Crown Grass (Paspalum quadrifolium) is a native of Uruguay that exhibits differences in color depending upon the site conditions.  In dry sites, it takes on a bluish cast; in wet areas it will appear more dark green in color. At some recent commercial sites in Central Florida, Crown grass has been used to imitate rice plants.

                     Panicum grasses (Panicum spp.) can also be quite large with thick reed-like stems.  Cloud Nine is a loosely upright five foot tall cultivar with a bluish cast, while the taller Panicum cultivar called Heavy Metal is much more upright.  They have not been evaluated for their tolerance to high pH soils, so be sure to know if you have alkaline soils. There are several other panicums found in our area that are a bit too weedy for landscape use. 

                     Purple Fountain Grass ( Pennestum setaceum ‘Rubrum’) is probably the most overused ornamental grass in our local landscapes.  When the leaves turn brown, withhold any additional fertilizer or water.  ‘Burgundy Giant’ is a cultivar that can get three to five foot tall, and is topped by foxtail like seed heads.  It does not have any cold tolerance.

 

            I’ve hope to display some of these specimens at our upcoming WETFEST program, to be held Saturday November 16th, 10-4 at Riverside Park. Additional information on ornamental grasses is available at our office.  If you need additional information on these wonderful accent plants, call or stop by our office.  For other questions about Florida Yards, our office holds Master Gardener Clinic hours at the Extension office (1028 20th Place, Suite D, Vero Beach) during office hours, Wednesday morning at the North County Library in Sebastian, and the second and fourth Saturday of the month at the Environmental Learning Center.   Our phone number is 770-5030, and you can email us at indian@ifas.ufl.edu.

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REFERENCES

Black, Bob.  Pampas Grass (Dr. Bob’s Gardening Tips) Florida Cooperative Extension Service. October 2002.   http://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/gt/pampas/pampas.htm

Bowden, Robert. Ornamental grasses (On-line Horticultural Guide.) http://www.leugardens.org/moregrdn.html

Ornamental Grasses.  (University of Illinois Urban Extension Programs home page) http://www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/grasses/


Schmidt, Steve.    Desirable traits of ornamental grasses.  (American Ornamental Perennials home page)  http://www.gramineae.com/plant.htm

 

Simon, Richard.   THE USE OF ORNAMENTAL GRASSES IN THE LANDSCAPE  (Virginia Tech Turfgrass and Horticulture Field Days proceedings) http://sudan.cses.vt.edu/html/Turf/orngrass.htm