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Ornamental Grasses

There are many ornamental grasses available in the market place, but I would recommend only a handful of the perennial species. Why -- (1) some are invasive and/or spread (by rhizome or seed) and (2) the maintenance is high for many, with owners often not up to the task. A single clump of the ubiquitous Miscanthus sinensis (Chinese Silver Grass) can produce over 500,000 seeds! The grass in the above photo is a prime example of the problems associated with most ornamental grasses. Plume Grass (Erianthus ravennae), is commonly (and mistakenly) called Pampas Grass--true Pampas Grass is NOT hardy in the Midwest. Plume Grass may get to 10+ feet when in flower. But, like so many clumping grasses, this perennial expands out from the center creating an ever expanding dead spot in the center. Every few years, one should dig up, divide and discard or replant the living marginal divisions. This is a challenging task that many homeowners ignore. Additionally, the old culms should be cut back to 6-8 inches sometime between late fall and before new growth emerges in mid spring the following year. Many home owners do not, like in the above photo, or wait too long, also like above. Fortunately, Plume Grass does not invade natural areas, but it is an invasive in old fields, and along roadways south of Indianapolis. Running Bamboo is also a grass, but (although appealing) one should NEVER plant this exotic because it is a malignant spreader and extremely difficult to eradicate. You could be legally at risk if it spreads to your neighbors property. In case you are wondering, Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis) may be my favorite ornamental grass--a fragrant wispy native perennial that does not invade--but Zea mays (Corn) is my favorite grass, followed closely by wheat Triticum (Wheat) and Oryza (Rice). In fact, grasses feed the world. Without grasses and the grain they produce, it is doubtful civilization would have occurred.

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