Ornamental grasses that stand up to snow
A heavy, wet snow storm smashed all of my ornamental grasses to the ground, robbing me of one of the few winter landscape highlights I have. Do you have any suggestions?
Carol Natte, Grand Rapids, MI
Miscanthus sinensis 'Gracillimus'.
Photo/Illustration: Jennifer Blume
Mary Meyer, of Chanhassen, Minnesota, author of Ornamental Grasses for Cold Climates, replies: One of the highlights of growing grasses is their stunning beauty in the winter landscape, as statuesque, showy plumes sway in the winter winds. Although you do not mention what grasses you have planted, the wide leaf blades of grasses such as frost grass (Spodiopogon sibiricus) and Northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) can accumulate snow and their stems are often not sturdy enough to support the additional weight.
Conversely, fine textured grasses like maiden grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus’) and feather reed grass (Calamagrostis X acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’) have narrow leaf blades which don’t catch snow, and their stiff stems have a better chance of remaining upright all winter. Other good selections for appealing winter interest are Miscanthus sinensis cultivars such as ‘Autumn Light’, ‘Morning Light’, ‘Sarabande’, ‘Rotsilber’, and ‘Silberspinne’. Also, ravenna grass (Saccharum ravennae)—a relative of sugar cane—has very sturdy stems and tall plumes. Native switch grass (Panicum virgatum) provides cover for wildlife and food for many birds, and little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) holds its lovely burnt orange color throughout the winter. Both are good choices for winter interest. All of these grasses are hardy to Zone 4, except ravenna grass, which is only hardy to Zone 5.
From Fine Gardening 62, pp. 14