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Retail Newsletter from Bluestem Nursery

Sept 2003


Feeding Ornamental Grasses

Do any of you have ornamental grasses that are floppy when they should be standing nice and straight? There are a number of possible reasons:

  • the grass is not receiving enough sun
  • the grass is receiving too much water
  • the grass was given too much fertilizer

Ornamental grass - Calamagrostis acutiflora 'Karl Foerster'
A hedge of Calamagrostis 'Karl Foerster' growing in very poor soil with very little extra water

Ornamental grasses for the most part prefer pretty spartan, or lean, conditions. I have a hedge of Calamagrostis 'Karl Foerster' growing in extremely poor soil, with very little water having been offered to it this summer, yet it looks magnificent.

Ornamental grasses grown on the lean side will have a longer life and be sturdier.

What kind of fertilizer should you use if you feel you must? Organic fertilizers release their nutrients slowly so are excellent for ornamental grasses. Well-rotted manure, leaf mold, and mushroom manure will all contribute to the health of the plant. Often the easiest fertilizer to obtain is to simply purchase a bag of organic fertilizer for lawns.

Exception: Miscanthus responds very well to fertilizer and should not be floppy if well fed.

Cool season grasses definitely should not be fertilized during hot weather because the nutrients push the plant to grow when it wants to shut down. Visit our April newsletter for a list of cool and warm season grasses.

The application of potassium in the fall is supposed to contribute to winter hardiness. Potassium (potash) is the last number on a bag of fertilizer.

Ornamental Grasses for Dried Arrangements

Depending on your climate, this may be an excellent time to harvest the inflorescence (flowers) of ornamental grasses for dried flower bouquets. Below is a list of grasses that make excellent cut flowers:

For dried arrangements the stems should be cut when the blossom is full but before the seeds are fully developed (so they do not drop off). That way you prevent the need for a fixative.

Try mixing substantial blossoms such as Miscanthus with the fine ones of Molinia or Panicum.

Panicum is wonderful cut as a fresh flower and mixed in a vase with Phlox paniculata. Then when the Phlox is finished simply allow the Panicum to dry for winter use.

Ever think of using some of these stems for outside decoration? Tie a bundle of Calamagrostis 'Karl Foerster' stems to a post. Miscanthus and Calamagrostis look wonderful added to your outdoor winter arrangements. My favorite combination is Calamagrostis 'Karl Foerster' with rosehips.

Bringing Container Grasses in for the Winter

I have 3 magnificent container specimens of Pennisetum 'Rubrum'. Jim gave me the following advice on how to keep them over the winter:

  • remove the blossoms
  • do not cut back until spring (cutting back will stimulate new growth and that is difficult for the plants at this time of the year)
  • keep on the dry side - not bone dry, but do not soak either
  • no fertilizer till spring
  • they need very little light - placement near a basement window would be fine


Q: What do you call a grumpy and short tempered gardener?

A: SnapDragon.


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