Grass Care & Maintenance

Most grasses are deer resistant and many are drought tolerant once established; see specific lists below for best selection.

Winter dormant grasses turn a straw color in winter, but remain intact and above ground, giving winter interest and movement to the garden. They can be cut back in late fall or left up through winter to be cut back in early spring just as or before new growth begins. Some grasses take on pretty fall colors before going dormant for winter such as Switch Grass and Japanese Forest Grass.

Evergreen grasses occasionally need to be “combed” or roughly raked to pull out old/dead foliage; most evergreen grasses seldom need to be cut back to the ground and often do not respond well to this practice.

Most grasses have a clumping growth habit and increase in diameter each year; after 3 to 5 years, the clump often begins to appear dead or thin in the center—this is a great indication that it is time to divide; this can be done in late fall or early spring before new growth begins.

In addition to the grass foliage, many varieties have showy “flowers” and seed heads that provide late summer/fall interest.

Ornamental grasses can be fertilized with lawn/turf fertilizer (no Weed & Feed though)!

Genus to Common Names

  • Acorus: Sweet Flag
  • Carex: Sedge
  • Festuca: Fescue
  • Juncus: Rush
  • Calamagrostis: Feather reed grass
  • Chasmanthium: Sea oats
  • Cortaderia: Pampas grass
  • Miscanthus: Maiden grass
  • Panicum: Switch grass
  • Pennisetum: Fountain grass
  • Hakonechloa: Japanese forest grass
  • Helictotrichon: Blue oat grass
  • Imperata: Blood grass

Evergreen Grasses

  • Acorus
  • Anemanthele lessoniana (Pheasant Grass)
  • Carex buchanaii
  • Carex comans
  • Carex flageliffera
  • Carex morowii ‘Ice Dance’
  • Carex oshimensis ‘Evergold’
  • Carex phyllocephala ‘Sparkler’
  • Carex testecea, Cortaderia
  • Festuca
  • Helictotrichon
  • Juncus ‘Spiralis’
  • Juncus ‘Unicorn’
  • Juncus effuses, Liriope
  • Ophiopogon ‘Nigrescens’ (Black Mondo Grass)

Tall Grasses for Privacy/Screening

  • Arundo donax
  • Calamagrostis acutiflora
  • Cortaderia selloana
  • Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus’
  • Miscanthus sinensis ‘Malepartus’
  • Miscanthus sinensis ‘Sarabande’
  • Miscanthus sinensis ‘Variegatus’
  • Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’
  • Pennisetum alopecuroides
  • Panicum virgatum ‘Dallas Blues’

Running Grasses*

*can become invasive

  • Arundo donax
  • Elymus glaucus
  • Hakonechloa
  • Imperata
  • Luzula sylvatica
  • Phalaris
  • Equisetum (Horsetail Rush)

Grasses for Shade

  • Acorus
  • Calamagrostis (part shade)
  • Carex elata ‘Bowles Golden’ (part shade)
  • Carex morowii
  • Deschampsia ‘Northern Lights’
  • Hakenochloa
  • Liriope
  • Luzula
  • Millium effusum
  • Ophiopogon

Grasses for Containers

*most of the evergreen grasses make great container plants!

  • Carex elata ‘Bowles Golden’ (semi-evergreen)
  • Equisetum sp.
  • Hakonechloa
  • Imperata
  • Miscanthus ‘Morning Light’
  • Stipa tenuissma

Annual Grasses for Containers

  • Pennisetum glaucum ‘Purple Majesty’
  • Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’
  • Scirpus filiformus
  • Cyperus papyrus

Drought Tolerant Grasses

  • Anemanthele lessoniana
  • Carex buchanaii
  • Carex comans
  • Carex flagellifera
  • Carex testacea
  • Chasmanthium latifolium
  • Cortaderia sp.
  • Festuca sp.
  • Helictotrichon semp.
  • Luzula sylvatica
  • Muhlenbergia sp.
  • Pennisetum sp.
  • Schizachyrum scoparium
  • Stipa tenuissima

Grasses for Raingardens & Bioswales

  • Acorus sp.
  • Carex nigra
  • Carex obnupta (Pacific Northwest Native)
  • Deschampsia cespitosa
  • Juncus sp.
  • Miscanthus sinensis

How to Extend Bloom Time or Get Perennials to Re-Bloom

Well-watered and properly fertilized plants tend to perform better than those that receive little care. On average, mid to late August should be your last feeding for the perennial garden for the year. Applications of kelp meal may be done later and may increase plant winter hardiness.

Many spring-blooming perennials will repeat bloom in late-summer or fall if they are deadheaded promptly after the spring flowers fade. Delphinium and Foxglove are good examples of this; when the spring flower stalk is removed after flowering, the plant can reinvest its energy in itself, producing a more lush plant that will usually form a flower spike later in the season. The second flowering is often slightly smaller or less showy than the first one.

Mums

*also applies to late-blooming Asters, Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ types, and tall-growing or Dinner-plate style Dahlias

Chrysanthemums seem to be the official signal of fall. Although sold as seasonal color, most are winter hardy enough to return in the spring if grown in well-draining soil. For mums that return the following spring, they need some special care to ensure that they grow bushy and compact and wait to flower until late summer/fall.

To best care for perennial mums, begin pinching back the top 1/3 of growth when the plant has reached 6 inches tall (prune off the top 2 inches). Continue doing this, cutting back by 1/3 every 3 to 4 weeks until around the 4th of July when you should leave the plant alone to form flower buds and bloom. This practice helps to form a dense, slightly shorter, more compact plant with multiple buds that bloom in late summer or early fall.