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Upper Midwest Gardening: Grow Great Ornamental Grasses

Brought to you by Lowe's Creative Ideas

Get tips for which ornamental grasses to choose for the Upper Midwest, and what kind of care they need.

wheat grass

Okay, I know what you're thinking: "Grass in the garden? Really?" Yes, really! But we're talking ornamental grass--a totally different plant animal. The word "ornamental" says it all. That's what these perennials are--adornments for the garden. They don't need to be mowed once a week. Heck, neglect them with respect, and they will perform beautifully for you.

Ornamental grasses are graceful, subtle plants that add punches of texture, color and interest, as you can see with the blue grama grass pictured above. They are perfect for the lazy gardener, offering year-round interest and food for the birds.

The best part is they need little, if any, babysitting and are a cinch to grow. My kind of plants!

Don't think all grasses are equal; each has its own characteristic, color and growth habit that is sure to satisfy and complement the plants already growing in your garden. One of my favorites, blue grama grass, is plucked straight from the prairie. It's a shorter grass, only growing 6 to 12 inches. The grass itself is nothing spectacular, but the flowers are to die for--tiny crescent moons delicately dancing in the wind June-August. The plant loves full sun.

Japanese silver grass

When discussing variegated Japanese silver grass, don't let the name confuse you! The blades are anything but silver; it's the flowers that have given this grass its name.

The shimmering, silvery-white plumes glisten in the morning and evening sun or when kissed with frost. This is a clumping grass--stays nice and tight--slowly widening to 3 to 5 feet over time.

Gracefully arching blades of dark green, cut with a creamy, white stripe, grow 6 feet tall. Give this one partial to full sun and you're good to go.

'Festuca glauca Elijah Blue'

'Festuca glauca Elijah Blue' is all about the color! Soft-powdery-blue tufts of grass that grow 8 to 10 inches tall make this the perfect border plant.

You'll always find this grass tucked into my gardens. I love the color--if snow doesn't bury it in winter, you'll be able to continue enjoying it. And for an added bonus, as summer wears on the grass produces tall stalks of wheatlike seeds.

This is a perfect border plant, and a great accent for any rock garden.

Calamagrostis acutiflora 'Karl Foerster' feather reed grass

Ah, what's an Upper Midwest garden without Calamagrostis acutiflora 'Karl Foerster' feather reed grass. This is probably the most popular grass grown in this area, and for good reason. It has a wonderful compact, upright growth habit, is drought tolerant and sports rigid, wheatlike stalks mid- to late summer. One is not enough. Plant it in groups of three to five for impact. Combine with Russian sage, black-eyed Susan or 'Autumn Joy' sedum for a bold focal point.

For prairie lovers, switchgrass takes you there; if you're looking for height in the garden, 'Northwind' is your answer.

The olive/blue-green grass stands erect 4 to 5 feet tall. But by late summer the grass is dusted with finely textured yellow flowers, which add 2 more feet to the grass. This is an easy one to grow, likes the sun or part shade, will tolerate wet soils, and looks terrific in winter.

What kind of grass do you like in your garden?