Certain grasses when abloom throw long stalks with plumes which have great ornamental value,

Grass always appears greener on the other side of the fence, probably because we never care to take a proper look at the blades underneath. Cushioning our feet despite being crushed beneath, and humbly submitting to our weight yet springing back to form are so many different kinds of grasses, which we often fail to notice and marvel at.

Though grass varieties such as rice, wheat, sorghum, maize, oats, barley and millets give us food, and those such as bamboo are useful economically, there are also certain grasses the purpose of which is solely ornamental. When abloom, they throw long stalks with plumes which have great ornamental value. They bring perennially striking form, colour, texture, motion, and sound to the garden. The term “ornamental grass” refers to true grasses (which belong to the family Poaceae), as well as other plants that have a grass-like appearance such as sedges (Cyperaceae) and rushes (Juncaceae). Hundreds of species and cultivars of ornamental grasses are thriving in wide range of temperatures throughout the world.

Characteristics

Most of the ornamental grasses are fast growing perennials. Their height varies from a few centimeters up to several meters. They generally have underground rhizomes (a type of stem). The grasses vary in form, size, colour and time of bloom thereby providing a wealth of choices. Leaves are flat and narrow and are held to the slender stems (culms). Colour of foliage includes shades of green, yellow, blue, red, brown, and variegated. Individual flowers are clustered together in a colourful inflorescence.

Majority of the grasses grow in open areas, exposed to sun. They are known to thrive even in soils low in fertility with conditions less than ideal for other garden plants. Some grow best in moist, well-drained soil while many can adapt to clay, rocky and dry areas. A few will even grow in standing water.

Gardening

With their versatility, ornamental grass is a good alternative for those looking for variety. They can be used as hedge plants, topiaries, ground-covers, specimen plants, and screens, for water-gardens or rock-gardens, or as container growth. The cut stems with long inflorescences are used in indoor decoration. They can also be used for stabilisation of slopes and to arrest soil erosion.

Ornamental grasses add three effects to the garden experience that are not obtained from other plants - movement (foliage and inflorescences flutter with the slightest breeze), sound (rustling noise of leaves) and shimmering light effects (especially when backlit).

Mass planting of the grasses produces a colourful display with fine foliage and showy blooms. They look pretty against a dark background and shall be placed so as to bask in morning or evening sunlight.

Care

Ornamental grasses have an inherent ability to withstand the extremes of drought and excessive rain and they are relatively pest and disease free. With proper care, grasses can remain undisturbed in the landscape for long periods of time.

Grasses generally grow best in five to six hours of direct sun each day. Most grasses can benefit from mulching and from cutting back, usually just before new growth begins in the spring.

Plants should be well-watered in the first season for good root establishment and watering can be minimised thereafter. Amount of water will depend on the grass species, the site and the season. They do not require much feeding, and overfeeding may be avoided to discourage foliage at the expense of blooms. One application of a balanced fertilizer in spring is adequate.

Propagation

Some ornamental grasses can be grown from seed. Many others are cultivars, and must be propagated vegetatively, by division of rhizomes or by planting stem cuttings.

(The author is a forest officer and can be contacted at ‘nchandramohanreddy@gmail.com’)