Grasses

When the colorful exuberance of the spring and summer garden fades, grasses can continue the garden interest into the fall and through the winter

A good example of this is the above photo showing lilies that have finished blooming and now, in the fall, the grasses are taking over. This scene will last until February when the grasses will be cut back to make room for the daffodils.

The grasses give a sense of peacefulness to the garden. Note how gently the grasses wave in the breeze.

Early morning is the best time to experience the glow and the peacefulness of the grass flowers. This is the Peruvian Feather Grass. (See post of March 8, 2019.)

Here is a ride past the 1/4 acre grass garden at Dawn Gardens in Grass Valley.

Here are some views of the grasses and other flowers growing in the grass garden – Verbena bonariensis, Lavender, Salvia. . .Here are some photos of ornamental grasses in Dawn Gardens and some comments on their maintenance:

Flowers of Molinia ‘Skyracer’


Molinia ‘Skyracer’ should be cut back to the ground once a year in December or January. It is the one grass that I have that has the flowers high above the foliage and looks beautiful silhouetted next to the sky.


Purple Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’) A beautiful dark red accent grass for the summer garden. It does not survive the winter in Grass Valley but it usually will in the East Bay. I have to replant it every year at Dawn Gardens but it is worth it.

Pennisetum ‘Fireworks


Panicum virgatum ‘Heavy Metal’ fall color


Feather Reed Grass (Calamagrostis acutiflora ‘Karl Forester’) A vertical accent in the garden. We cut these back to the ground in January so the daffodils that are planted among them will be visible. After the daffodils bloom in March the grass grows back and covers the maturing foliage of the daffodils.

The flowers of the Feather Reed Grass are more loose and open than the seed heads but in the month of June they consolidate and become more linear and dense.

Fall color of Feather Reed Grass

Fall-blooming Reed Grass (Calamogrostis brachytricha)

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Pink Crystal Grass (Rhynchelytrum nerviglume ‘Pink Crystals’)

Japanese Silver Grass (Miscanthus sinensis). There are many varieties with different heights and fall foliage from yellow to orange to purplish.

The fall colors and seed heads last well into the winter so we usually cut these back to the ground in March. That way they give height and an accent to the daffodil garden.

Miscanthus sinensis. The flowers are tan to pink. Later in the fall they become beautiful silver.

Evergreen Miscanthus (Miscanthus transmorsoniensis). Since these are evergreen they do not need to be cut back every year. At Dawn Gardens we usually do it every 3 years. The dead flowers, however, should be deadheaded every year usually in the winter.

IMG_1050Pink Muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris)  Blooms October through December

Pink Muhly on February 1. These will be cut back soon to allow the new growth for the coming season.

White Muhly (Muhlenbergia ‘White Cloud’)

Soft Blue Mexican Muhly (Muhlenbergia pubescens)

Muhlenbergia dumosa. A very graceful grass which doesn’t look like other Muhlenbergias. I have never seen it flower. It doesn’t need to be cut back every year like the other Muhlenbergias – just every 2-3 years.

Sporobolus heterolepis

Calamagrostis foliosa

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Cosmopolitan’

Stipa gigantea

The next 3 photos are of an evergreen grass called Lomandra ‘Breeze’. It looks like a grass but it is actually a lily. The flowers are tiny as you can see from the 3rd photo.

This plant is from Australia and is used in freeway plantings over there because it is so tough. It seldom needs to be cut back and it always looks great.

This is a variegated variety of Lomandra called Lomandra ‘Platinum Beauty’ It is very tough and easy to grow and often used as an accent in the garden.

Pennisetum ‘White Lancer’

Love Grass (Eragrostis) Top photo is before pruning and the bottom is after pruning in December. These grasses get water only once a month in the summer.

Silver Spear Grass (Achnatherum calamagrostis)

Mosquito Grass (Bouteloua gracilis)

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Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa macra is a deciduous grass with several gold varieties.  They prefer some shade but can grow in the sun if they get enough water.  These photos were taken in December showing the fall color.

Japanese Forest Grass in the summer

Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa macra)

Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’

Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’

Here is a video showing how to cut back grasses with a power hedge clipper. It is best to cut close to the ground and to leave no stubs. As the grass gets older it is harder to cut close to the ground.

This is Maire’s Fescue (Festuca mairei) that is 5 years old that has been cut back in December. We do this about every 3 years when the old leaves get grey and start to look ratty. This is an evergreen grass and does not need to be cut back every year. This is a good container grass.

Cutting back Maire’s Fescue

This is what Maire’s Fescue looks like before it is cut back.

Approximately 24 hours after cutting back the Fescue the new leaves are already emerging.

Approximately 2 weeks after cutting back.

One month after cutting back.

4 months after cutting back

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