by Ken Lain, The Mountain Gardener, Watters Garden Center
Mountain gardens are famous for flamboyant autumn grasses in the landscape. This is the season you’ll find the most exotic options for the gardens. From short spreading grass to big, bold pampas grass, this is their time to shine.
Treat ornamental grasses as you would a tree or shrub; put them on the same irrigation and watch them thrive for years to come.
Whether grouped in clusters or planted singly as focal points, ornamental grasses add instant texture and form to the garden. The grasses listed here are beneficial for adding an autumn glow to the gardens. Many look great right through winter.
Blue oat grass, Helictotrichon sempervirens, forms a tidy porcupine-like clump in the garden. The beautiful blue colors show all season, with beige panicles through autumn. Blue oat grass can remain evergreen through mild winters.
Feather reed grass, Calamagrostis acutiflora, loves spring and is one of the first ornamental grasses to shoot up from the garden in spring and plume. Karl Foerster shows red plumes summer through fall, with Overdam showing golden.
Flame grass, Miscanthus sinensis, can be a very flashy addition in autumn. Eye candy in the perennial garden with blazing red flowers all fall. Sometimes referred to as Maiden Grass, every yard should have at least one.
Fountain grass, Pennisetum alopecuroides, is one of the most reliable and attractive ornamentals you can grow. Rubrum keeps its red color all season. Moudry is another good choice for fall color, with green leaves as its flowers change to burgundy.
Japanese forest grass, Hakonechloa macra, looks genuine any time of year. The golden yellow colors show well against all the purple, rust and reds in the fall garden. An easy-to-maintain grass with a weeping habit for extra drama.
Pheasant tail grass, Anemanthele lessoniana, is an open grass, ready to sway and flow in the slightest breeze. It’s also known as gossamer grass or New Zealand wind grass. In fall, the leaf blades become tinged with copper streaks that reflect the sun. The perfect grass for the lower mountain gardens below 5,000 feet elevation.
Pink Muhly grass, Muhlenbergia capillaris, grows hip-high and very flashy. The foliage is covered in pink flower heads that catch every breeze, adding a cloud of soft pink to the garden summer through fall. Very tough, even on the windiest mountain hilltops.
Prairie Dropseed, Sporobolus heterolepis, has thin, airy leaves that weep and flow in the garden. The leaves can turn almost pumpkin orange in fall.
Red Switch grass, Panicum virgatum, starts to change from green to red early in the growing season, and by fall it’s on fire. Shenandoah is the shortest, slowest growing, and showiest of all the red switchgrasses.
Tall Moor grass, Molinia caerulea, grows foliage 3 feet tall, then shoots up into a delicate 6-foot flower stalk. Its narrow width and tall flowers make it perfect for small gardens. The flowers turn aspen gold through autumn.
Autumn sparks the most critical feeding of the year for everything in the garden, especially fruit trees, shrubs and the native evergreens in the landscape. Before Thanksgiving, spread all-purpose plant food around all your essential plants, especially lawns and the ornamental grasses in the yard.
This promotes better rest through winter and sets the stage for more extensive growth in spring.