Monday, September 28, 2015

Some Thoughts About Grasses

Too many gardeners think of grasses as turf, without regard to the many grasses that have ornamental value. Some of theme can be useful, too. For example, Japanese maiden grass, Miscanthus sinensis, is available in numerous cultivated forms. It is adaptable, tolerant of poor soil and low moisture, and makes an effective screen fence or hedge. Propagation is simple, too. This plant deserves wider application in home gardens.

Japanese maiden grass does require annual maintenance. After frost sends it into dormancy, the old growth should be cut back to about a foot tall. This will make for a tidier and more shapely clump the following season. The hay this trimming produces is a great mulch for other plants. If allowed to dry out, it can be chopped and composted along with autumn leaves.

If you have a lawn, September and October are the best times for annual chores such as aeration, over-seeding, fertilization and weed control. I will repeat the admonition to set your lawn mower as high as possible. When grass is allowed to grow tall, it also develops a strong, healthy root system that will help keep it green and thriving through adverse summer weather. Tall grass also smothers weeds before they can gain the upper hand.

Numerous other grasses find uses as ornamental subjects. Many produce their blooms in late summer and fall, adding to the show of colorful blooms and autumn leaves. Among our favorites are:

Japanese forest grass 'Aureola'--A low, growing plant with yellow variegation in the leaves, it does well in shade where few other grasses thrive.

Foxtail grass 'Cassian'--Dramatic blooms from neat clumps of foliage about three feet in diameter; this grass is easy and drought tolerant.

The vegetable garden continues to yield both cucumbers and peppers that are better in quality than they were before the weather cooled down. Fall plantings of kale, spinach and parsley are coming along nicely. We even have a few late tomatoes, from self-sown seeds growing in the compost area.

This is a great time to think about preserving some of the end-of-season abundance, from the backyard as well as the farmer's market.

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