Ornamental grasses bring a welcome shot of drama to the autumn garden.

  • Article by: NANCY ROSE
  • Updated: August 16, 2009 - 10:32 AM

Whether you grow them for their showy seedheads or their fall foliage, ornamental grasses bring a welcome shot of drama to the autumn garden.

Ornamental grasses add texture and movement to gardens throughout much of the year, but autumn is when so many of the grasses come into their glory.

The seedheads (which develop after the blooms) provide interest through fall and well into winter. And some grasses even flaunt gold, orange, or burgundy foliage for a month or more.

These ornamental grasses mix beautifully with fall-blooming perennials such as asters, goldenrod, mums and sedums.

And you can showcase fluffy seedheads and colorful leaves by placing grasses in a spot where they'll catch late-day sun. In fall, the rapidly diminishing angle of the sun brings light through leaves, making fall-colored grass glow like a wildfire. So even if you won't be planting ornamental grasses until next spring, select some sunlit spots in your yard this fall.

 

CHOICE GRASSES FOR MINNESOTA GARDENS

FLOWERS AND SEEDHEADS

'Karl Foerster' feather reed grass

(Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster')

'Karl Foerster' feather reed grass makes an extended presence in the garden: Its airy, midsummer blooms are followed by upright, wheatlike seedheads that accent fall gardens and persist into winter.

Fall-blooming feather reed grass

(Calamagrostis brachytricha)

Although it starts as an innocuous mound of green foliage in the summer, fall-blooming feather reed grass suddenly blossoms in September. The airy, pinkish, bottle-brush flowerheads glow in the autumn sunlight and pair well with 'Autumn Joy' and other fall sedums.

Japanese silver grass

(Miscanthus sinensis)

This species has led the interest in ornamental grasses. Blooming from late summer through fall, all cultivars of Japanese silver grass bear showy silver-white seed plumes from fall into winter. There's great variability in hardiness, though, so before you buy, consult a good reference book, such as "Ornamental Grasses for Cold Climates" (University of Minnesota, $9.95) to choose a cultivar that's hardy here.

Be sure to avoid the related species Miscanthus sacchariflorus (also known as silver banner grass). It's an aggressive spreader that can invade native grasslands.

Switchgrass

(Panicum virgatum)

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