Use ornamental grass in your landscape to help conserve water

  • I recently attended a talk on ‘Water Savers in the Landscape’ by Linda Gay of Mercer. I’m not a big fan of ornamental grasses but there were several useful tidbits in the talk so I thought I’d cover them in one entry for those of you who do enjoy ornamental grasses.

Many ornamental grasses do not require added water. At least not in Houston. And many traditional xeriscape plants can’t handle Houston’s 50″ a year of rainfall. So give them a thought while you are browsing through this winter’s garden catalogs.

Grasses go dormant in the winter here and many benefit from a hard pruning ( cut them right back almost to the ground ) late fall, but there are exceptions so be sure to see what is recommended for your grass.

Here are a few of the recommended grasses for the Houston area and some interesting tips on them:

Giant Reed ( Arundo dona variegata ) This comes in plain and variegated and can reach 18′ in height. It grows well near water and in well drained soil.If you have a variegated form you must cut it to the ground once a year to maintain the variegation.

Dwarf Pampas Grass ( Cortaderia selloana ‘Pumila’ ) You’re all familiar with this grass I’m sure. It was one of the first ones homeowners started incorporating into landscapes. Be aware that mice like to nest in it and you should cut it back in the fall to evict them. Leaves are razor like so wear leather gloves and body armor to prune.

Porcupine Grass (Miscanthus sinensis ( ‘Caberet’, ‘Cosmopolitian’ and ‘Strictus’)) all do well here ) Caberet can reach 6′ and needs to be trimmed or the stalks will lay down and look unattractive. Cosmopolitian is variegated and won’t flop on you. Strictus is more erect and spiky than the other two.

Sugar cane – I did plant some of this last fall and I love it. If you cut the canes you will have a nice upright grass cluster. Egads, I can’t imagine doing that, I like the canes better than the grass. They are very bamboo like, but do as suits you.

Muhly ( Muhlenbergia ( lindheimeri and dumosa ) ) Lindheimeri has blue green grass and dumosa has bamboo like culms ( but quite narrow ) Do not cut dumosa back! Leave it be and in the spring new leaves will push the dead brown ones off the plant. If you cut it back it will take a long time to recover.

Millet ( Setaria italica ) is the ornament grass that shows up every where as a decoration in the fall. It can reach 4′ tall.

Palm grass ( Setaria palmifolia ) maxes out at about 2′ tall. It reseeds itself and can take over an area so give it plenty of room. If you are cutting it back wear leather gloves and body armor. The soft hair on the leaves act like cactus spikes and will embed themselves in you and shred you. They are so fine you will likely not even notice them going in to your flesh.

On your grasses regular lawn fertilizer does just fine provided it is not a ‘weed and feed’ variety.