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Ornamental Grasses Tolerant of Cold Winters and Clay Soils

I am looking for some ornamental grasses to grow in my small city lot. Can you suggest some that tolerate our clay soils and Great Lakes winters?

Ornamental grasses can add year round beauty to the flower garden and landscape. Most prefer full sun and well-drained soils. Feather reed grass, Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster' tolerates clay and one of the easiest to grow. This hardy (zones 3 to 8) beauty was selected as the Perennial Plant of the Year for 2001.

Miscanthus sinensis has many varieties of varying sizes and foliage features and many are hardy zones 3 to 9. Some varieties have escaped the garden so there is concern for invasiveness. Check to see if this is a concern in your area. Avoid the aggressive silvergrass (Miscanthus sacchariflorus) that can take over your landscape.

Our native switchgrass (Panicum), hardy in zones 3 to 9 is another good choice. It does get large and rapidly spreads by seed in the garden so you may want to consider Heavy Metal, Northwind, Shenandoah, Haense Herms, Stricta or other varieties suited for smaller spaces.

Blue oat grass, Helictotrichon, zones 3 to 8 and blue fescue, Festuca (zones 3 or 4 to 8 are shorter grasses with blue foliage.

The ornamental and native sedges (Carex) and Hakone grass (Hakonechloa macra) can be a little more challenging but most do well in shady locations. Some of the sedges are hardy to zone 3 and the Hakone grass will survive zone 4 through 9.

For more information on grass for your region contact your local extension office to order the publication NCR 573 Ornamental Grasses for Cold Climates. Southern gardeners should visit Harry P. Leu Gardens website www.leugardens.org for information on growing grasses in the far south.


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