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Retail Newsletter from Bluestem Nursery

March 2004

Grasses in Masses

Schizachyrium scoparium - October

For a few years I have been trying to incorporate ornamental grasses into my colorful lush garden. However I frequently felt that I hadn't yet figured out the best way to use them. Then last summer Jim gave me a couple of plug trays of grasses to trial in my garden. Rather than scatter them about I planted the 25 plants of a single variety in a group. The effect was terrific! Suddenly a light bulb went on. One look at the mass planted grasses and I realized that grasses need to be planted in masses!

I had already done that with my established hedge of Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster'. Eight plants swaying in the breeze look so much more interesting than just one. Schizachyrium scoparium is another grass that sways beautifully as do the Panicums.

A group planting of Carex flagellifera is extremely interesting to look down on. Due to the plants hummocky form, the effect is one of upside down string mops. Plant Carex flagellifera or Sporobolus heterolepis where they can be viewed from above.

The Deschampsias are also excellent in masses as the haze effect of their flowers shows best when an area is full of the same plant. These plants are also highly recommended for planting at the base of plants that need their bottoms hidden, in particular Phlox paniculata (garden phlox) and Monarda (bee balm). The dark green color of Deschampsia is also good hiding the base of rose bushes and C. 'Karl Foerster'.

We are all probably familiar with the Festucas planted en mass (particularly 'Elijah Blue'), but have you considered Helictotrichon (Blue oat grass) used the same way? It is a much taller blue-leaved grass but every bit as effective and you need fewer plants! Koeleria glauca is a blue grass at the opposite end of the scale. It is smaller than the Festucas and will self seed to fill in an area with a sea of blue.

Juncus effusus 'Spiralis' has to make it the most intriguing plant en mass. The countless curlycues are a unique form in the plant world. Looking down on a mass planting of these would look like a bedspring. This plant needs moist soil or can be grown directly in water.

Pennisetum alopecuroides - October

It is sometimes possible to see a mass of Pennisetum used in parks and private landscapes. The species Pennisetum alopecuroides becomes quite a big plant and suitable for covering a large area. For smaller areas try the dwarf versions, P. 'Hameln'. Festuca mairei has a similar form to the Pennisetum and would make an interesting alternative.

So my enthusiasm for Grasses in Masses inspired Jim to offer many more grasses as plugs this year. This in an inexpensive way to plant a large number of one variety. The minimum number of plugs of one variety is 25. If you don't need that many perhaps you have a friend you can share them with. Or garden clubs can get together to order or pot up the plugs for a plant sale.

Helictotrichon at Elysium Nursery in Kelowna
August 2003

This beautiful picture was sent to us by Jacquie Cherot of Elysium Nursery. She has extensive display gardens at her nursery in Kelowna, BC. Last summer it was threatened by the huge forest fire that destroyed so many homes there. She ran around the gardens taking pictures the day that she was evacuated. She wasn't sure if the gardens would be there when she returned. The colors in this photo are due to the smoke in the air at the time and resulted in a shooting star look for the Helictotrichon. I am happy to report that Elysium was not touched by the fire.

Elysium Garden Nursery has a spectacular display of ornamental grasses. If you are in the Okanagan Valley (in British Columbia, Canada), in September in particular, I highly recommend you pay a visit.

Wondering when and how to cut back your ornamental grasses? Visit our newsletter from April '03 for the information. Want to know how to divide grasses? Click on the colored text to go straight to the information on our website.

Our Deer Friends

In Christina Lake and Grand Forks we have a huge deer population, yet they don't eat the ornamental grasses.

Bluestem Nursery would like to hear your experiences with deer and ornamental grasses. Please email us if you have any information to share as I would like to post this on the website for the benefit of others.


Farmers are real experts, they are often outstanding in their fields.

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