Archive | January 2019

Ornamental Grasses (conclusion)

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Indian Grass

In Part 1 of this discussion of ornamental grasses, we talked about grasses for part-sun, for cold climates, and those that provide fragrance. Today we’ll cover grasses that provide fall and winter interest.

Blades of Color

The most common fall color for grasses is a warm tan, but there are also some that are as bright as autumn leaves. Plant them where they’ll show up: the pale ones backed by dark evergreens, stronger shades where they will blaze against the pebbles of a courtyard or an open sky.

Yellows include many of the molinas, especially Molina caerulea cultivars, and Phragmites australis.

Shading more toward orange and red are the big bluestems (Andropogon gerardii) and switch grasses (Panicum virgatum), especially the variety ‘Haense Herms.’ Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans) does double duty, starting out yellow and shading toward orange as the season progresses.

For darker reds, consider Miscanthus sinensis ‘Graziella’, which has warm brown undertones, the purplish Hakonechloaa macra; Imperata cylindrica ‘Rubra’; and Miscanthus sinensis ‘Purpurascens.’

Winter Grasses

The best grasses for winter interest are those that are quite sturdy, able to stand up to rough weather, including the feather reed grasses (Calamagrostis spp.), Ravenna grass (Erianthus ravennae), little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), and those that have decorative seed heads, such as Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans) and cat tails.

For the prettiest effect, they should be planted in groups of varying heights of where they will be set off by evergreens, garden sculptures, or other structural elements that give them a context. If you just dot them here and there, they tend to look like something you forgot to clean up.

Cutting Grasses Back

In nature, nobody cuts down grasses, so why should we? Well, in nature, the open areas where grasses grow are periodically renewed by the cleansing effects of fire. In the absence of this very efficient remover of dead material, we need to cut back our grasses.

The best time to do it is in early spring, after the grasses have done winter landscape duty but before the new growth starts. Wearing gloves (many grasses have sharp edges) and using hedge clippers if the clumps are large, cut off the dead stalks right above the ground. This will not only open up the plants, bringing light and air to the centers and thus forestalling disease, but it will also remove a potential fire hazard.

Note: Grasses will let you know they need division by flowering less and/or dying out in the center of the clumps. Be on the alert for the start of these symptoms and divide the grasses then. You want to get in there before things get ugly, but there’s no need to divide plants that show no signs of needing it.

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Ornamental Grasses – Part 1

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Ornamental grasses add color and texture to landscaping

Frequently overlooked and under-appreciated by most gardeners, ornamental grasses can add beautiful height, texture, and even fragrance. While it is true that the majority of ornamental grasses do best in full sun, a number will also tolerate shade as long as it is not too heavy and their other cultural needs are met.

Grasses for Part Sun

Among the useful grasses or grasslike plants are tufted hair grass (Deschampsia caespitosa), millet grass (Milium effusum), Hokonechloa macra ‘Albo-aurea’, variegated lily turf (Liriope muscari ‘Variegata’), and ribbon grass (Phalaris arundinacea var. picta). These vary from about 1 to 3 feet tall. Somewhat shorter are Virginia wild rye (Elymus virginicus), Alpine hair grass (Deschampsia alpina), and blue fescue (Festuca ovina glauca). And quite a bit taller are northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium), creeping bluestem (Andropogon stolonifera), bluejoint (Calamagrostis canadensis), and bush grass (Calamagrostis epigejos), which may range from 2 to 6 feet tall.

Well-Behaved Grasses

One of the common complaints about grasses is the invasive nature of many of them. Anything with runners — ribbon grass (phalaris arundinacea), blue lyme grass (Leymus arenarius), and switch grass (Panicum virgatum) are the classic examples — is likely to be a problem. If you’re taken with something that comes without a description, tip it out of the pot and look for signs of runners (underground shoots with upward-pointing tips) before you take it home.

And almost anything with seeds will self-sow, that being what the seeds are for, though some, such as the fountain grasses (Pennisetum spp.), do it more aggressively than others. Be careful of plants described as self-sowing “manageably”; someone has got to do the managing, and that someone will be you. Nurseries are increasingly conscientious about labelling possible invaders, but it’s still best to check with your local extension service before you purchase and plant.

Fragrant Grasses

Several ornamental grasses give off appealing fragrance when their leaves are rubbed or broken. They include lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus), citronella grass (Cymbopogon nardus), and sweetgrass or vanilla grass (Hierochloe odorata). When dried, sweet vernal grass (Anthoxanthum odoratum) is fragrant as well. Sweet flag (Acorus calamus) is a scented grasslike plant, but not a true member of the grass family.

Grasses for Cold Climates

Many of the most popular ornamental grasses are very hardy, including Miscanthus sinensis cultivars such as ‘Morning Light’ and ‘Purpurascens’; midsize favorites like the feather reed grass Calamagrostis arundinacea ‘Overdam’; yellow foxtail grass (Alopecurus pratensis), which seldom grows taller than a foot; and it’s even shorter cousin, A. alpinus ssp. glaucus, a 4-inch charmer with very blue leaves.

The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum conducted a large study of cold-hardy ornamental grasses and has published the results in North Central Regional Publication No. 573, “Ornamental Grasses for Cold Climates.” Call 952.443.1400 for information about how to obtain the booklet.

 

A Hosta Lover’s Dream Convention

By Tammy Borden, Outagamie County Master Gardener

When I bought my first home, it had one variety of hosta that bordered the foundation of the house. With a shady backyard, I eventually began adding garden beds containing other kinds of hosta. When I reached 50 different varieties, I realized my hobby had evolved into a collection. Fast forward and I now have nearly 600 varieties surrounding my yard.

In those early days, I just knew I liked hostas. I never imagined there was such a thing as the American Hosta Society (AHS) — a dedicated group of other hosta enthusiasts from around the country who hold an annual convention. When I discovered the group, my eyes were opened to new aspects about the genus, such as cross-breeding, sun tolerance, tissue cultures, and more.

dick2When I attended my first AHS convention in Indianapolis, I got to meet others who shared a love of what many call the “friendship plant.” Appropriately, I’ve formed many new friendships as a result. I also got to meet many of the hybridizers who bred the plants — some of them pioneers in the hosta industry such as Dick and Jane Ward. I have the hosta named ‘Dick Ward,’ (pictured) and now I think of him each time I walk b

Other hybridizers included Olga Petryszyn who is
known for her hosta of the year for 2017, ‘Brother
Stefan.’ I also met Doug Beilstein who strives to breed standout varieties with unusual leaf characteristics such as 2018 hosta of the year, ‘World Cup.’ Now, when I walk around my garden, I feel an even greater connection to many plants because I’ve met those who introduced them into the market… and I feel like I have a connection to them, too.

The AHS national convention is held in a different city each year. It was in Philadelphia in June 2018 to celebrate its 50th anniversary. In 2019, I’m excited to let you know that it’s coming to Green Bay, Wisconsin! If you’re a hosta enthusiast like me, or if you’re just starting to gain an interest, I invite you to join me and several hundred others from across the country and around the world. Here are some details…

American Hosta Society National Convention
June 12–15, 2019
Radisson Hotel & Convention Center, Green Bay, WI

Registration Information: www.ahs2019event.org
The theme for the 2019 convention is Hostaffinity, a reflection of the relationship that we as gardeners share with each other and our beloved plants. Featuring: 11 Stunning Garden Tours – Vendors – Leaf Show and Seedling Competition – Speakers: Rick Goodenough, Don Dean, Olga Petryszyn, Doug Beilstein, and Jeff Miller

Trademarks and Patents

When you’re shopping for your plants, did you ever notice that some of them are patented and others are trademarked. What’s the difference? Does a patent or trademark mean that these are better than other plants?

Plant patents, given to the breeder of a new plant, prevent anyone else from selling that plant or using it as one of the parents in a breeding program without permission — and without paying royalty fees, which are promptly passed on to those who buy the plants. Patents aren’t a guarantee that a plant is better, just that it is different.

The benefit to gardeners is that breeding new plants is a very long, expensive process, filled with many more failures than successes. Without patent protection, and royalties, fewer companies would take the risk.

Trademarks are names or symbols used to identify a product. The raised letters ™ mean that the designation is claimed as a trademark, and ® means that it has been registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

A trademark is simply a marketing tool, used to create an identification between the plant and the company. The company hopes that your previous good experience with one of its plants will convince you to buy from it again.

Theoretically, companies put their reputations on the line and have a vested interest in providing you with a high-quality, well-grown plant. They hope that if gardeners have an easier time making choices, they may find it worth the additional cost.

Paying more for trademarked and patented plants may mean a future of fewer small nurseries with a wide range of plants, and more large-chain garden centers with rows of the same plants. But remember, a lot of things can happen between the grower and your yard. How a local nursery or mail-order supplier handles a plant before you guy it makes everything else moot. Good plants come from people who care about them.

Easy Growers

Who’s already thinking about spring? Have the seed catalogs started filling your mailbox? Perhaps you’re starting a new garden, or you’re a new gardener. With that in mind, let’s tackle some of the easiest annuals to add to your garden.

The easiest annuals to grow from seed are those that sow themselves. Alyssum, calendula, cosmos, larkspur, nocotiana, nigella, and poppies will all come back the following year as long as you leave some seed heads and the seeds fall on receptive ground*. With this group, you only have to plant once. I’ve had good luck with dianthus as well.

The next easiest are those whose seed is large: marigolds, nasturtiums, sunflowers, and zinnias. Annual phlox is also a reliable choice, as is portulaca (moss rose).

Bear in mind that larkspur, nigella, and poppies are cool-weather germinators, so if you’re starting from scratch, be sure to sow their seeds as soon as the ground can be worked.

No matter how quickly they grow, annuals need a couple of months to make it to blooming size, so if you want them to flower in summer you’ll need to choose things that get growing in early spring, well before the last frost. The list is short but there are a few, including annual poppies, annual phlox, larkspur, nigella, silene, and bupleurum (a little-known but valuable bouquet filler that looks a bit like chartreuse eucalyptus). For best results, plant the seeds in fall the way the flowers themselves do. They will sprout in spring when conditions are right.

If you don’t mind waiting until late summer for your flowers to bloom, the list can be expanded to include calendula, rudbeckia (black-eyed Susans), and asters. These need a bit more warmth to germinate or, in the case of the asters, a longer growing time so they don’t start flowering as soon as those listed above; but they don’t mind light frosts and can (usually) be relied on for color in September and October.

*Receptive Ground: as it relates to self-sown seed, receptive ground is nothing more complicated than reasonably loose soil that has room at the surface for something new to take hold. It need not be weed-free, or as soft and smooth as soil that has been thoroughly cultivated and raked. All that is necessary is an occasional bare place; the seeds will take it from there.