Skip to main content
Visit the University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Apply to the University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Give to the University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Visit the University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Apply to the University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Give to the University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Kim Todd - Ornamental Grasses
Use the text input to search the transcript.
Click any line to jump to that spot in the video.
Use the icons to the right to toggle between list and paragraph view.
Toggle between list and paragraph view.
Beautiful is turf grasses,
ornamental grasses also have a great place in the landscape.
You have to be cautious about which ones you choose
and how you choose to use them
because if it's done incorrectly,
they are going to become part of the landscape
that you do not want.
If you like turf,
you probably at least pay a little bit
of attention to ornamental grasses.
Whether you are managing them or designing with them
or you simply like the way they look.
And this is a little bit of a tongue in cheek for a start,
because of course, bamboo is a grass.
This beautiful yellow bamboo is not one you're gonna see
actually growing in most places in the central part
of the United States,
but you certainly might see it in a container.
So let's take a look at what's to like,
and what's not to like about ornamental grasses.
What's not to like, well, there's no mowing,
so to speak, there's no real regular fertilizing,
no or little insect or pest control, except of course
for things like pesky grasshoppers and
no thing, but enjoyment except there is of course,
no such thing as perfect.
This is a beautiful little combination of some
of the native grasses with a little bit of extra
thrown in for good measure.
A little messy, a little fuzzy and for a lot of people,
that's not exactly what they really like.
So, let's start with intent and choice.
What do we use ornamental grasses for,
transitions, accents or specimens, seasonal interest
and to direct movement.
They are not a substitute for shrubs
or actual turf grass, typically.
And we choose by the habit of the grass,
it's form the texture and the movement,
the color and the color change,
and of course your ability to manage it.
So as a transition, the grasses,
especially some of the bigger ones can really
sort of bridge that gap between a very,
very low ground cover or actual turf
and larger shrubs and trees that can help soften boulders,
they can form an accent against something that is
of a contrast in color or size or scale.
This is another example of a transition,
it's maybe a little bit more abrupt
because of course in its winter color
this particular grass is very, very dramatic
and very, very blonde.
So it's maybe not quite as good a transition
to the evergreens behind it with the exception
of perhaps in scale.
If you look at this wall, a couple of grasses,
this is probably Karl Foerster feather reed grass,
are helping to accentuate curve as well as give
a little verticality, serve as a transition
to the wall behind and as a foil to the Rudbeckia
that is in the foreground.
And of course as an accent,
nothing like one of the great big giant Ravenna grasses
that stands almost as tall as the tree
in this little parking lot island.
Then of course, there's that seasonal beauty of the grasses,
especially if they're back lit,
if they're in full seed head,
if the light is right, if moisture is hanging onto them.
Just really a beautiful thing in the landscape to be able
to use for a slightly different kind of appearance
than a typical shrub or small tree.
Grasses can also be one of the materials that we use
to suggest movement,
especially if they're used in a simple large band or mass
and they just follow the curve of a walk
or the curve of light poles.
They can be very uniform depending on the cultivars selected
or the species selected and really can help
to direct traffic and give that visual flow
if not the physical flow.
This next series is actually a very, very heavy grass scape.
I guess that's about all, you can really call it.
And even on the images,
it appears as though it is moving.
To a lot of people this is a little bit of overkill,
and that is one of the things I think is kind of interesting
about grasses in the landscape right now.
They were extremely wildly popular in very,
very large quantities for a number of years,
and it seems like they've fallen a bit out of favor,
or at least maybe they're being used a little bit
more selectively than they were in the past.
So once you figured out what your intent is
for wanting to use the grasses,
then we start looking at just exactly how do you choose?
How do you choose the grasses?
And we start with habit and you have a couple choices
to begin with either annual or perennial.
Annual grasses have their place in many instances,
especially in public landscapes and private landscapes,
because they go from zero to beautiful in a season,
you can change your mind,
you can change the variety.
You have not really committed a huge amount of budget,
although you can, of course,
some of the grasses can be $20 or $25 per gallon
if you're not really careful.
But they do give you color that is not necessarily available
in some of the perennial grasses.
And of course grasses can become a really
a fabulous vertical point in any container large
or small, in some instances depending on the grasses
that you've chosen, they also will over winter
in a large container and in the right conditions.
And again, they provide that difference
in texture and form that is certainly
can be complimentary to other plant material.
They come in all sorts of varieties of colors and forms,
this is really the Ruby Grass behind that Salvia
is just this fluffy sort of pink thing you kind
of want to walk up to and pet it
as opposed to simply looking at it.
It looks like cotton candy,
or it looks like it belongs in a carnival
sort of an atmosphere.
So then we also look at the perennial grasses,
so annual or perennial, we start with that.
And that can be really a game changer
depending on the situation you're in
or if you really do want to change that landscape,
you don't want to commit to a particular grass
that is perennial.
And of course you can use the perennial grasses
and the annual grasses together, too.
So, one of the ornamental millets,
this is probably Jade Princess showing to some advantage
against the very, very perennial,
very vertical Northwind Switch Grass.
So you start with the habit is it annual or perennial?
And then you think in terms of what is its form
and how is it going to move or spread,
or is it going to stay tidily in place where you want it
and just slowly increase in girth?
And those are really important considerations,
especially depending on your landscape situation
and your ability to manage grasses that may
or may not want to stay put.
I think this is just really interesting to look at.
This no longer exists, but this is some,
a couple of extremely vertical selections
of Little Bluestem, almost as dense as a broom,
standing up all by themselves.
So again, you can get the really vertical columns
of grass that are almost architectural.
And then you look at the contrast in this image
to the Little Buddha Lua in front of it
with almost a curly Q kind of an appearance.
So the grasses used together can also give you those
differences in texture and form.
You look at sort of the,
almost the filigree or the translucent appearance
of the Sporobolus Prairie Dropseed
in the foreground with the Day Lily
in between there's Porcupine Grass in the corner,
which is one of the miscanthuses.
And again, Karl Foerster, which is one of those very early
and so far, fingers crossed, sterile,
flowering grasses that is used extensively
and sometimes not exactly used well.
So if you look at it here in a clump,
the clump forms of mass,
so it's really sort of a band of horizontal.
It's vertical in stature,
but it is horizontal in terms of its contribution
to the landscape.
And then you look at how it has been used
as a parking lot screen.
This is not exactly effective because your eye tends
to move to every single one of those grasses.
Now, is it possible to get from the parking lot
to the sidewalk by walking through it?
Absolutely, but this is probably not
what the design intent was.
And it is a good example of if you have grasses that are
clump formers as ornamentals,
the spacing is going to be critical if you want them
to read as a mass.
Of course, grasses are fabulous for the texture,
which I've already mentioned a couple of times,
and for the movement.
Just the slightest wind can really cause that sort of
sea of grass from waving and moving in the wind
or in the air.
And of course they also attract all sorts
of interesting critters and creatures,
which adds an additional layer of movement
to the entire landscape.
There's really nothing else that moves
the way the grasses do.
You can end up with extremely fine small texture.
This is a little tiny, tiny, tiny, little love grass
that is sort of this pink powder puff.
Really pretty dramatic, really small and a little hard,
as you can tell, to be able to keep the weeds out of it.
And then of course that change over the seasons.
That's both a positive and a negative.
If you look at a very late fall appearance
in this particular situation,
it is the rounded mounded wispy sort of appearance
of the clumps of one of the pennisetums
that really stand out in the rest of the shrubs
and the tree landscape in this particular island.
So, here's the deal on using the grasses though,
you can't just let it be, let it be.
You've got those formative years when you have
to get those grasses established
and depending on how many you want
and where that goes back to intent and what your budget is.
That can be a pretty pricey little bit of an experience.
Weed control can also be tricky,
not just from the start to get them established,
but later in their lives.
You've got to do spring or fall cut back and clean up.
And at that point, whatever you were trying to screen
or accentuate or use as a specimen becomes very bare
Many of them need division and restoration of some sort.
They become open in the center,
they really die out in the middle.
Some are so big and heavy and floppy,
especially some of the newer selections that you need
to stake them or cage them or corral them,
or keep them from spreading or flopping all over the place
because if they're going to do that
and there just isn't room for them,
you're gonna have to cut them back
and then what's the point?
And if you look at what has to happen
or how the grasses do change over time,
this may be what it looks like going
in at the absolute appropriate spacing
and a year or two later this is what you have
in terms of the beauty and again,
the movement of those grasses in the landscape.
But, we also have issues with how do you control the weeds
in a landscape that has a lot of ornamental grasses
without getting rid of the ornamental grasses?
This is just a single season of skipped or incomplete
or incorrect management of a very large public landscape.
The one season skipped just,
it just became an absolute weedy mess.
Just, here's just a couple examples above the wall,
along the sidewalk edge.
And then you look at what happened when we had winter kill
or herbicide kill trying to get rid of the weeds.
This is what the appearance of what should be
one of those really simple landscapes that is filled
with grasses looks like,
and that's really not acceptable to most people
who like the grasses.
The other thing that happens of course,
and this is an example of maybe too much of a good thing,
or maybe too much of the same thing,
not much contrast with the brick of the house
on this one,
lots and lots of very large dominant grasses
that are all very tan,
and of course, again,
when they get cut back in the spring, you got nothing.
So you hope there's not a junk car or all the utilities
hiding behind those particular grasses.
We also have some grasses that really are misbehaviors.
Is it the climate or the micro climate?
In some instances, it is.
Are they cultivars that are unstable?
Is it good intentions on the part of the designers
who use them, and then of course,
failure to manage when they escape.
So, we have one of the little pennisetums seeding itself
into the turf, which is manageable, but it's not manageable
by hand pulling unless you really have a lot of time
on your hands.
And then we have Japanese Blood Grass,
which is a really an invasive species in other locations
and is proven to be that way here too.
We're also, again, concerned a little bit about
some of the pennisetums.
They're very beautiful.
They do seed themselves,
but the Miscanthus or the Maiden Grasses, thus far,
in a lot of locations in the United States
are terribly invasive.
So again, knowing the habit, keeping your eye on it,
doing the management is really essential with the grasses.
And of course, moving to things like
some of the newer cultivars,
this is just a little wispy piece of one of the newer
Little Bluestems with some other perennials behind it,
letting people who know what they're doing,
take take a gander at just exactly how these plants
are going to behave in the landscape.
And then you end up with the absolute incredible beauty,
if you pause to look at it,
of what they look like in beautiful flower
or beautiful seed.
There's so many choices of ornamental grasses.
And again, you want to start with style.
Is it vertical?
Is it horizontal?
Are you after the winter character?
Are you after the movement and the texture
and make sure you place them in a location where it would
be easy for you to manage them?
The screen size you are trying to search captions on is too small!
You can always
jump over to MediaHub
and check it out there.
Log in to post comments
icon arrow down
2020 Virtual Nebraska Turfgrass Field Day
iframe embed code:
Copy the following code into your page
<div style="padding-top: 56.25%; overflow: hidden; position:relative; -webkit-box-flex: 1; flex-grow: 1;"> <iframe style="bottom: 0; left: 0; position: absolute; right: 0; top: 0; border: 0; height: 100%; width: 100%;" src="https://mediahub.unl.edu/media/13965?format=iframe&autoplay=0" title="Video Player: Ornamental Grasses" allowfullscreen></iframe> </div>