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Grass Greats for Southern California

It used to be that specifying which grass to use in a landscape was no more complicated than deciding whether to install the lawn from seed, sod or plugs. Grasses were used for turf and certainly not as decorative elements in their own right. Landscapes featuring ornamental grasses and their look alike cousins, the rushes and sedges, were as exotic and scarce as hen's teeth.

From fringe dweller to mainstream staple. Little more than ten years later and grasses and grass-like plants are no longer horticultural fringe dwellers. Gardeners, designers and other landscape professionals have discovered that grasses offer an unparalleled array of textures, forms, sizes, and colors. Easily integrated into all aspects of garden design, grasses, rushes and sedges provide a long season of interest in return for very little maintenance. It's no wonder that ornamental grasses are now almost routinely included in even the most mainstream commercial or residential design.

True grasses belong to the family Poaceae, a huge group of plants which includes lawn grasses, cereal grains and bamboos. However, in the trade, the term ornamental grass has come to mean all plants with narrow strap like leaves that are grown primarily for their foliage.

Know how they grow. Just like lawn grasses, ornamental grasses can be divided into cool-season and warm-season types. John Greenlee, the renowned ornamental grass specialist and author of The Encyclopedia of Ornamental Grasses, points out that, "One of the biggest misconceptions surrounding ornamental grasses is that they all grow the same from one region to another."

Thriving not just surviving. Many grasses, just as many fruits, shrubs and herbaceous perennials, require winter chill, or vernalization, to bloom and thrive. Unfortunately, many varieties offered locally are not actually great choices for warm winter regions. For example, Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster', a Perennial Plant of the Year winner, is often specified primarily for its beautiful honey bronze blooms. Sadly, 'Karl Foerster' requires a significant amount of winter chill to flower well and often disappoints when grown in Southern California. Japanese Feather Grass, (Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola'), is another grass requiring vernalization that, locally, performs poorly. A fluid golden mane in the cool of the Pacific Northwest, Hakone stumbles and struggles in the heat of humidity of Southern California. A better choice would be Golden Sweet Flag (Acorus gramineus 'Ogon'). Recommended by Greenlee as a "dependable shade grower," easy care 'Ogon' provides the same sunny color and fountain-like form as Hakonechloa but is less climatically temperamental.

Ask the Experts. Bamboo Pipeline asked John Greenlee for his comments and recommendations on a long list of ornamental grasses typically grown for the Southern California market. Five of John's favorites are listed above.

Sedges have edges and rushes are round; Grasses are hollow and rush all around." - Gardener's Rhyme

We Are Bamboo Pipeline

I am Desiree, Account Specialist with Bamboo Pipeline.

I work to supply the highest quality plant material in California and Nevada for your landscape projects. We offer the broadest and best selection of landscape materials delivered direct to your jobsite.


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