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Changing Attitudes

It has only been in the last few decades that any grasses, other than turf and Pampas Grass, were used in ornamental landscapes. Certainly, native grasses were not considered or appreciated as they are today! 

pampas grass at fast food restaurant Pampas Grass clumps grow to huge, tropical-looking tufts. It was often used as a focal point, surrounded by seating, or to flank entrances in the southeast. Pampas grass is native to South America. It fit perfectly with Victorian designs. It was exotic, dramatic plant material from a far-away place. It is also called Sawgrass, with a reputation for ripping through skin with jagged cuts if you are unfortunate enough to run your hands along the graceful blades. For this reason, it is a nightmare to maintain. The thick clumps grow to heights over ten feet tall. The clumps can get ragged, containing both new blades and the old, dried-out blades from years past.

The best method of rejuvenating a clump of Pampas Grass is to bind the entire plant with a bungee cord and use a chain saw to cut through the tough stems in late winter. Only female plants carry attractive plumes, so it is important to choose container material of Pampas Grass when it is in bloom to ensure worthwhile specimens.

I grew Pampas Grass at a former home, but never again. It is not practical for residential landscapes. Pampas Grass was typically used only on large properties with paid maintenance crews to deal with the challenging pruning requirements or by unsuspecting homeowners that learned the hard way to avoid it. 

switch grass in landscape designThen the New American Garden influence became popular. In the eighties, designers began using grasses that not only looked soft, but were soft. The softness was a great contrast to newly popular spiked and mounded perennials being used in landscape beds. Several types of Miscanthus species showed up in nurseries. They proved to be quite invasive, though, and are no longer hot items for the latest fashion in garden design. Pennisetum species can get away from gardeners, too. Even though the appetite for graceful, soft forms has not waned, designers are searching for well-behaved alternatives to exotic ornamental grass species. The girls next door—Switch Grass and Muly Grass—have been discovered and embraced. Prairie Dropseed and River Oats, Gamma Grass and Bluestems, Indiangrass and native Lovegrass have become worthy new additions to modern landscape designs. These natives are not always content to remain in one location, but they are easily controlled. They can be moved and maintained without injury or the use of chain saws. They are cold-hardy and quite beautiful. New cultivars are being created every year.

There are some amazing native ornamental grass selections available now. If you have a sunny, difficult slope, there is no better choice for stabilizing the soil and creating a low-maintenance planting zone. You only need to mow once a year to discourage tree seedlings. You can add in herbaceous wildflowers for more color. The look will be slightly unkempt, but quite trendy compared to most typical landscape treatments.

Ornamental Grasses