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Ornamental Grasses – Old Ottawa South Garden Club

The 2017—2018 season (the 23rd season) of the Old Ottawa Garden Club got off to a great start with a presentation by Cindy Cluett on ornamental grasses.  Cindy is the owner of Beyond the House (www.beyondthehouse.ca)—a full-service garden centre and landscape company located in Russell that specializes in rare and unique plants.  Cindy is a graduate of both Ottawa U and Algonquin College.

Cindy started her talk by noting that ornamental grasses, like shrubs, add structure to a garden, provide movement, and attract birds.  She continued that ornamental grasses can be categorized as cool-season grasses—those that grow early in the season and bloom in the spring or early summer and warm-season grasses—those that grow later in the spring and bloom in late summer or early fall.  In addition, some grasses are perennial whereas others are just annuals.  Although most grasses like full sun, some are shade tolerant.  In addition to garden planting, smaller grasses do well in containers—especially in combination plantings.
Cindy next showed quite stunning pictures of cool-season, perennial grasses such as Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’, Calamagrostis ‘Overdam’, and Calamagrostis ‘Eldorado’ (all will stand up to harsh conditions such as those found at roadsides) and warm-season, perennial grasses such as Panicum ‘Blood Brothers’, Panicum ‘Praire Fire’, and a number of quite beautiful Miscanthus grasses including Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus’, Miscanthus sinensis ‘Oktoberfest’, and Miscanthus giganteus that can grow to ten feet.  At the other end of the scale are the sedges such as Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’ that only grow to a height of one foot, are shade tolerant, and can be used to soften hardscaping.
Cindy then moved on to annual grasses and showed pictures of striking grasses such as Pennisetum ‘Cherry Sparkler’, Pennisetum purpureum ‘First Knight’, and Pennisetum ‘Sky Rocket’.

Cindy concluded her talk by discussing preparation of the ground for planting ornamental grasses: Cindy recommended working the existing soil to remove any weeds and then working in a couple of inches of triple mix soil (a mixture of top soil, compost, and peat moss).  This preparation is best done in the fall to allow the frost and worms to improve the soil tilth ready for planting in the spring. Cindy recommended adding a three- to four-inch layer of mulch after planting.  After a couple of years, the mulch will have broken down and the soil can be top-dressed in the fall with compost and mulched again in the spring.  Although some grasses can survive the winter snow load and provide interest in the garden during the winter, most are better cut back in the fall.
All photo credits: Cindy Cluett