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by Pernell Gerver

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"Growing the Many Different Ornamental Grasses"

During spring and summer, ornamental grasses are perennials that provide a graceful, green backdrop in the garden, but in fall and winter as other plants go dormant and disappear, ornamental grasses suddenly emerge as focal points in the garden. Their fluffy seed heads appear and sway delicately in the breeze and their arching foliage turns a golden tan. In winter, a light dusting of snow clings to their flowers and foliage, outlining their attractive shape. Their stems and leaves rustle in the slightest breeze, providing an almost musical sound during winter. Set against a backdrop of snow, ornamental grasses really stand out in the winter garden. To enjoy their beauty all winter long, I don't cut back my ornamental grasses until a nice warm day in March. Click on a plant name below to order it from Pernell Gerver's Online Store.

Dwarf Miscanthus 'Adagio'There are many different types of ornamental grasses. One of my favorites is miscanthus. Of the many varieties of miscanthus, one of the best is Dwarf Miscanthus 'Adagio.' It's much more compact than most miscanthus. It forms a handsome clump of slender, arching foliage about four feet high and wide. It produces an abundance of flower plumes that appear in mid August. The foliage has a thin stripe of white running down the center of each leaf. Because of its compact size, it's a good choice for a small garden.

Hakonechloa is one of the best ornamental grasses for shade. It forms a dense mass of arching stems variegated with gold and white that really brighten up a shady spot in the garden. All the stems arch downward in the same direction, creating a flowing effect. Hakonechloa is a dwarf ornamental grass, growing only about a foot and a half tall and a couple of feet wide.

dwarf fountain grass 'Hameln'Another nice ornamental grass for smaller gardens is dwarf fountain grass. The variety 'Hameln' forms a perfect, rounded mound of arching foliage. It grows only about two feet high and wide. Rising through the foliage are bottle-brush-shaped flower plumes. The flowers appear in late summer and remain attractive through winter.

Feather reed grassOne of the best grasses for an upright accent in the garden is feather reed grass. It forms a low base of arching green leaves. The foliage only stands about two feet high. Rising through the center of the foliage are stiff, upright flower plumes that stand three to four feet tall. The flower plumes are slender and turn tan in late summer. To me they resemble stalks of wheat. Set off against an evergreen backdrop, the flowers really stand out.

Ravenna grassPampas grass is a beautiful ornamental grass prized for its large flower plumes. Unfortunately for gardeners here in western Massachusetts, pampas grass is not hardy, but there is a substitute that closely resembles pampas grass that is hardy here. It's called ravenna grass. It's also sometimes called northern pampas grass. It's a large ornamental grass that makes a wonderful specimen plant in the garden. It can also be used for screening. It forms a large clump of arching foliage that stands five to six feet high and wide. Flower plumes tower over the foliage, held on stems that easily reach 14 feet tall or more. In my garden, the flower plumes are so tall I can see them swaying in the breeze from a second-floor window! The huge silvery flower plumes are about a foot long and really do resemble pampas grass.

Pernell Gerver's Gardening Q & Aby Pernell Gerver

"Store Dahlia Tubers Indoors over Winter"


Q. I enjoy growing dahlias, especially 'Dwarf Unwins.' People I know who also grow dahlias have had trouble saving their tubers over winter when stored inside in peat or wood shavings. My dahlias winter over in the ground with south exposure against a brick apartment, but some of my favorite dahlias are not on the south side. Could you please respond by the first hard frost? Thank you.

A. Dahlia tubers are planted each spring to bloom during summer and in fall the tubers should be lifted and stored over winter for replanting in spring. Dahlias have large tuberous roots that look like sweet potatoes all attached to a stem. After a killing frost has blackened the foliage, cut the foliage back to about three to four inches of stem. Then carefully dig up the tubers, keeping them all attached. Rinse the soil off the tubers and allow them to air dry for only a few hours.

Dahlias tend to shrivel up in storage over winter, so here's a tip I use for preventing desiccation. Dip or spray the tubers with an antidesiccant at the rate of ten percent antidesiccant to ninety percent water. Let the tubers dry in the sunlight before storage. Pack the tubers in layers of peat moss in a solid container. Place the container in a cool (forty degrees), dry location that doesn't freeze such as a garage or basement. I've had great success overwintering dahlias this way.

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