Ornamental grasses are gaining in popularity. Not only are they extremely easy to maintain and tolerant of extreme wetness and drought, they also provide an interesting focal point for any garden.
Decorative and adaptable, they are quick to grow and easy to maintain. They can be used as fillers or specimens, border plants or background plantings, as ground covers or screens, or they may be grown as container plants. Their subtle beauty makes them perfect companions to flowering plants and other ornamentals. They can be used to add depth and texture to mixed shrub planting and to highlight rock gardens.
Grasses add the dimensions of sound and movement to the garden as wind catches and rustles the leaves. The dried stalks of many grasses remain upright for winter interest. And, to make life interesting, ornamental grasses change colours and shapes with the changing seasons. The summer colours give way to hues of red, beige, or brown, and provide a great winter garden accent.
With a range of interesting colours and textures, annual ornamental grasses are extremely useful in the garden. Growing to a height of around 60cm (24in), they can be direct sown along with other annuals to add texture to plantings or can be used to fill gaps among slower growing perennials.
Many of the grasses have graceful, pendant, nodding flowers, they are most useful for flower arrangers, they can be used either fresh or dried and make elegant focal or secondary flowers in summer or winter arrangements. They are particularly decorative at Christmas when they can be sprayed silver or gold etc. To dry, gather when the heads have changed colour but before they start to break up, cut the flower at the height of bloom and hang upside down in a cool, dark place to dry. If dried correctly, they will hold their colour well.
The components of the mixture of Annual Ornamental Grasses will vary, dependent on time of year and availability of seed.
It contains some or all of the following:
Avena sterilis, the Animated Oat Grass. Briza maxima, the Quaking grass. Briza minima, the Little Quaking grass. Hordeum jubatum, the Squirrel Tail grass. Lagurus ovatus, the Hares Tail grass. Panicum villosum, the Fountain grass. Pennisetum villosum, the Feathertop grass. Phalaris canariensis, the Canary grass. Setaria glauca, the Bristle grass. Setaria macrostachya, the Foxtail grass
Seeds should be sown at around 2.5 grams per square metre, (10 grams to cover 4 square metres), but can be sown at a higher or lower density, dependent on the results desired.
Do not sow too thickly, while it is good for plants to offer each other a little support you don't want them to out compete one another.
Timing: Sow in spring or in autumn
Sowing can begin from late March to early June as the soil begins to warm up (often indicated by the emergence of weed seedlings). It may begin earlier in milder gardens of the south and west; in colder northern gardens sowing may be later.
Seeds can also be sown in the autumn so they flower earlier the following year. A spring sowing differs from an autumn sowing in that it tends to produce a later flowering display. It should be noted that although these plants usually withstand frosty conditions without protection, some hardy annuals would benefit with a covering with horticultural fleece or a cloche when a heavy prolonged frost is forecast.
Weed the bed, level the soil with a rake and tread lightly before sowing. Mixing the seeds with dry sand will ensure a more even distribution of seeds. You can easily see where seeds have fallen and any bare patches can be covered.
Sowing the seeds can be done either by broadcast sowing or by sowing in drills. Broadcasting sowing is quick and easy, the seeds are simply scattered evenly over the surface of the soil. The main disadvantage of broadcasting is that you cannot easily tell weed seedlings apart from your sowings.
Alternatively, the seeds can be sown in drills (shallow grooves) 30cm (12in) apart, to produce drifts of flower for a natural appearance. Although this takes a little more time it is time well spent as the flowers appear in rows and can be told from any weed seedlings easily.
Water seeds / plants if conditions are dry. The plants may benefit from support in exposed gardens. These annual plants should not require fertiliser. The more nitrogen they receive the greener and further they'll grow. This spreading habit is fine in a field, but in a garden they may become too lush and the flower quality may suffer.
At the end of the flowering season you can either leave the seed heads for the birds to eat or cut the flowers down. Annual mixes are designed to last for only one year but if the area sown is left uncut you may get some flowers next season from self-sown seed. At the end of the flowering season Gather seed heads from the flower heads to provide seeds to be sown the following season. The dead stalks can be cut down and any weeds removed, the area can then be re-cultivated in time for the following season.
Beds and borders, Cottage/Informal, Cut Flower Arranging, Low Maintenance, Wildlife Gardens.
- Additional Information
Common Name Mixed Species Hardiness Hardy Annual Flowers Graceful, pendant, nodding flowers Natural Flower Time August to September Foliage Blue-green Height Varies - 30 to 90 cm (12in to 36in) Position Full Sun to partial shade Soil Tolerant of most well drained fertile soil Harvest Cut the flower at the height of bloom and hang upside down in a cool, dark place to dry Time to Sow Best sown directly where they are to flower in spring.