Ornamental grasses can be a landscape’s showstopper, thanks to their stunning appearance, adaptability to varied soil and site conditions, and natural resistance to pests and diseases.
Feather Reed Grass (Calamagrostis x Acutiflora) is a clumping, ornamental grass with numerous cultivars. It’s a deciduous plant, but one of the first of the family to show foliage in early spring. It grows 3 to 5 feet tall, producing cloud-like clusters of flowers in June that start green and slowly blush to purple or pink. These flower heads become grain-like seeds within a few days, persisting well into the winter, before they gradually scatter from the stalk.
Care for Feather Reed Grass is minimal, making it a great choice for urban and container gardens. Newly planted grasses will need to be watered until they are established, but mature plants can withstand long periods of drought. In poor soils, the grass benefits from an early spring fertilizing with a balanced food. Prune back to enable new foliage to grow tall, past the crown in the spring. Divide mature plants after three years for better growth and to produce new plants.
When to prune Feather Reed Grass is a matter of personal preference. Some gardeners like to prune in the fall, when the flower heads are spent and things start looking a bit untidy. Others like to wait until February or March, feeling that the old foliage provides winter interest when snow covered, and that it helps protect the crown from cold weather. Either way, be sure to prune before new growth begins to sprout. Use a hedge trimmer or shears to cut the old spent blades and stems back to 3-5 inches from the ground.
A recent cultivar gaining a loyal following is Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’, the first ornamental grass to receive the Perennial Plant of the Year Award® (2001), earned for its good looks, long-lasting plumes and undemanding growing requirements. One of the distinguishing and highly regarded features of ‘Karl Foerster’ compared to other varieties is its narrow and upright growth. At only 18 inches wide and up to 5 feet tall, a grouping creates a dramatic vertical element in gardens.
Feathery stalks emerge reddish brown in spring and turn a rich golden color in fall. Leaf blades are 2-3 feet long and are a deep, shiny green. The diaphanous flowers appear atop 5-foot high stems in June – two to three weeks earlier than common Feather Reed Grass. They’re initially light pink in color and mature to a golden tan that lasts through fall. Foerester thrives in wet soils, yet tolerates drier conditions, as well. The stalks make great cut flowers and since the grass produces sterile seeds, unwanted seedlings aren’t an issue.
You can use Foerster as a vertical among low-growing plants or have a pair planted in distressed metal pots or bronzed urns for a minimalist look. It’s perfect near water gardens or terraced patios where event the slightest breeze causes the grass to sway gracefully.
Grasses add a dramatic yet graceful touch to the landscape. Contact us here at Farmside Landscape & Design for great ideas on introducing grasses into your outdoor space.
Main image photo credit: Morovia – Foersters Feather Reed Grass