On dark days in late November when the mornings are just a lighter shade of gray than the nights, not many plants are in their glory. This is zone 4b. Nature has turned away from us, but these grasses, with their subtle silvery-buff colors and rustling blades, are still here, still gorgeous. I think grasses belong, in some form or another, in everyone’s garden. They are especially valuable in northern gardens, though, where few plants maintain any presence throughout our long winters.
The tall grasses in this shot are miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus,’ a solid zone 5, possibly zone 6 grass. I have four large clumps along the fence that all came from one plant. I divided it and put them in the boulevard bed about five years ago— before I found out they supposedly aren’t hardy here! As you can see, ‘Gracillimus’ is a large, six foot tall grass. It has an upright, graceful vase-shape which works well in this relatively narrow bed and it provides a great screen from the street. Here’s a shot of the same bed in early spring to show how amazingly they fill in.
The only zone issue is that ‘Gracillimus’ blooms erratically for me. This year the efflorescences appeared but opened on only one plant. When we get temperatures in the twenties in October, this grass fails to bloom. Otherwise, it’s extremely hardy.
The low grass is Prairie Dropseed, sporobolus heterolepsis. Can’t recommend these plants enough. Prairie Dropseeds are the only grasses I know of that also have a great scent. They smell like fresh popcorn, and no one who passes by them can resist running the blooms through their fingers. Dropseed is another clump-forming grass that can remain in place for a long time without dying out in the middle. Above is a shot from earlier in the season (July?) which shows their weeping form well. The only absolute requirement for both these grasses is sun. You need full sun for them to do well. Like all warm weather grasses, they need cutting down in the spring, but are otherwise low maintenance. Don’t fertilize grasses or they’ll flop. Water needs are minimal once plants are established. These are prairie plants, so they have deep roots.These grasses will continue to provide beauty and movement until we have a heavy snowfall, so they usually look great into December or sometimes beyond.