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Gardening | October 3, 2011

Gardening With Deer-Resistant Ornamental Grasses

We have had an extremely dry spring and summer and as a result the deer are eating “everything” on the deer-resistant lists. Ornamental grasses are deer resistant plants that many people are unfamiliar with. Ornamental grasses are fabulous, under-utilized plants in any landscape throughout the year, yet it seems the majority of them show their majestic beauty during the autumn in our area.

There are many magnificent grasses, especially native grasses, which can be utilized to compliment and add drama and depth to the garden that are drought-tolerant and can thrive in the south Texas environment.

I highly recommend reading “Gardening with Grasses”, Michael King-Piet Oudolf/Timber Press, Inc. for more information. Fountain grasses (Pennisetum) are wonderful in the fall garden. These grasses appear dramatic when used to define a corner site, as well as being positioned to rise out of an area of lower growing plants.

Purple Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum, ‘Rubrum’) is extremely drought-tolerant and adds terrific contrast to the garden with broad purple leaves and arching feathery pink-colored flower spikes that bloom throughout the growing season. Purple Fountain Grass is cold tolerant to 20 degrees.

Black Flowering Fountain Grass is a smaller grass clump producing black furry caterpillar-like plumes. Two dwarf varieties are used often in the area: ‘Little Bunny’ and ‘Dwarf Hamelin’. ‘Little Bunny’ seems to be used more, growing to 16 inches in height and is the smallest of the pennisetums. ‘Dwarf Hamelin’ grows to 24 inches and is slightly more compact.

Chinese Silver Grasses (Miscanthus sinensis) are elegant upright grasses. These ornamental grasses range in height from 4 ft. to over 10 ft; from plants with fine needle-like leaves to specimens with wide arching blades. Maiden Grass (M.s. ‘gracillimus’/ ‘graziella’) varieties produce large, free hanging, silver-white plumes protruding out high above the foliage. This drought-tolerant plant is quick to establish itself and grows to approximately 5.5 ft. Undine Miscanthus grows to 6.5 ft. and is known as the bigger sister of ‘Graziella’, but with a remarkably light and elegant inflorescence. Silver Feather Miscanthus produces pinkish blooms that develop to silver, reaching 6.5 ft. in height. Two dwarf varieties, ‘Adagio’ and ‘Yakushima”, are attractive tufted erect clumps, which show delightful pinkish-brown flower plumes.

Mexican Wire Grass (Stipa) is another wonderful smaller ornamental grass that adds drama to any garden, especially when the blooming flower heads attractively move in the wind. This plant forms tufts of pale green leaves, which can roll up during drought conditions. The different Stipa varieties produce long, fine, golden hue flower heads, which bloom in the spring and fall, however are more dramatic in the spring. Finally, Gulf Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) also adds rose-colored, feathery blooms to the garden. These evergreen grasses grow to approximately 3ft. in height and are spectacular when used in native landscape themes.

Information courtesy of: Gardening with Grasses-Michael King & Piet Oudolf Timber Press, Inc.; Portland, Oregon-1998

Article submitted by: Joanne Thompson-Hall, M.A./South Texas Growers, Inc.

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