Three Hardy Ornamental Grasses

Every year I have a new “favorite” grass. A couple years ago it was Karl Foerster reed grass. It’s a stand up kind of fellow who waves cheerfully in the wind from early summer right through until late winter when it finally keels over in time for new shoots to spring up and start the show all over again.

Karl Foerster standing tall in Anita Haight's Summer Garden

Karl Foerster standing tall in Anita Haight’s Summer Garden

Anita Haight's Garden

Karl Foerster Grass in Anita Haight’s Winter Garden

Two years ago it was Japanese blood grass “red baron” a  species that is considered borderline invasive in zones 5 or 6 and isn’t supposed to grow in our zone 2b or not to 2b at all…but it does. Given enough mulch topped by piles of snow, things that die to the ground survive here even when the tags tell you otherwise.

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Japanese Blood Grass ‘Red Baron’

Last season it was flame grass or Miscanthus ‘Purpurascens’ that caught my interest. My clump is three years old and just starting to come into its own. The first year it was less than impressive but last year it really coloured up nice living up its flame nickname. Try to ignore the mess of mulch behind it. That’s the start of some new vegetable beds…

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But it really came into its own during a dump of snow in December with its hardy shoulders wearing a mantle of white. I already posted a picture of it under the snow hats post, but its so nice you won’t mind looking at it twice (or at least I hope you won’t).

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Northern Lights College in Dawson Creek, BC has a hedge of flame grass near its main entrance that produced spectacular white feathery flowers. Mine has yet to produce any blooms, and according to Bluestem Nursery ( it doesn’t  bloom every year, but when it does ooh la, la, it is worth the wait!

After tossing in that tantalizing teaser I am sorry to admit I don’t have any pictures of the aforementioned hedge in bloom, but take my word for it…it was fantastic.

Here’s the info taken from Bluestem Nursery. If you’re looking for any kind of rare grass chances are they have it! And no, I don’t receive anything from them for saying that! : )

Miscanthus sinensis var. purpurascens – Flame Grass

aka Miscanthus oligostachyus ‘Purpurascens’

Small and compact with flowers seldom reaching 1.5 meters (60″),  M. purpurascens will show its true fall colours (brilliant orange-red) when grown in areas with warm sunny summers.

Very hardy – survives the bitterly cold winters of the Canadian Prairies, though it does not necessarily bloom every year.

The most important consideration when growing Flame grass is to make sure that it receives ample moisture. This is especially true in hot  dry locations.

Description: warm season*; clump forming or slow spreading  Foliage is reddish-green; blade is 10 mm (1/3″) wide; 90-120 cm  (36-48″) in height Flowers from August until frost; 100-150 cm (40-60″) tall

Ideal conditions: full sun or bright shade; fertile soil; needs ample water in hot, dry conditions; wide variety of sizes and colors within the same species

Zone: 4 – 9

Suggested uses: specimen, border, screen, hedge, background           plant, massing, by the water, arrangements

When divide: when it shows signs of life in the  spring, continuing until the new growth is about 18″ tall; only in the spring

When to plant or transplant: plant bare root plants only in late spring to early summer, when the soil is warm, about the same time you plant your bean or corn seeds. The roots will grow only in warm soil. Planting too early in the spring may cause the           roots to rot. Similar story in the fall when the roots may not grow enough to establish before the cold and wet of winter, resulting in the demise of the plant.

When to cut back: we enjoy the foliage of Miscanthus so much that we like to leave it standing until the new growth starts to appear, possibly as late as May. We also like the combination of the tan foliage and spring bulbs. Cut back to about 6″ from the           crown of the plant.

Partner with: Aster, Rudbeckia, Sedum, Yucca

Season of interest: July till spring; will likely remain standing all winter

Drought tolerance rating: 3 (water to root depth once every week).

Native to: the mountains of Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu in Japan

Plant form: upright arching

Recommended spacing between plants: 60-100cm (24-40″)

Pronunciation: Miscanthus (mis-KAN-thus) sinensis  (sin-EN-sis) purpurascens (pur-pur-AH-senz)