Grasses for Zone 5

seebachers(z5 OH)January 25, 2005

I am looking for a perennial grass to start from seed that grows at least 3-4 feet. What are your recommendations?

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jake(z4b-5 NE)

My suggestion is not starting from seeds to get ornamental grass plants. You are looking at a 3 - 5 year wait to get the plants you desire.

Should you buy splits or divisions of a grass then your wait will be more in the time frame of 2 - 3 years depending on which grass or grasses you choose.

Other obvious factors to consider are the planting sites, the soil type and condition, amount of water your grass(s) will receive throughout the growing season and finally the patience to wait for the grasses to develop into the plants they are.

Unlike most perennials grasses take time to reach their potential.

I know you will get a couple of people to respond to your request so donÂt give up on your game plan but be prepared for a long process before you have great success. (Geeezz I sound like a used grass salesman).

In closing I find it baffling to read that people want ornamental grass seed rather then getting grasses that are already growing.

Good luck on your road to growing ornamental grasses. Send a postcard as your trip unfolds.


    Bookmark   January 25, 2005 at 9:16AM
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jroot(5A Ont. Canada (near Guelph))

Like Jake, I do not recommend growing ornamental grass from seed for the following reason....most ornamental grass seed is STERILE. Most of the truly beautiful grasses spread from clumps and not seeds. Those that spread from seeds are truly INVASIVE, and most gardeners do NOT want those in his/her garden at all. If one does want them ( for some reason) they can gather the seeds by the highways. These ones are INVASIVE, and that gardener will have ample jobs to do each spring, pulling grass from his/her garden. I hope I made my point. I have a friend who planted ribbon grass, which is a pretty variegated grass, but is extremely aggressive from seeds. She absolutely curses the day she planted it, as it is everywhere,- in her lawn, in her garden 40 feet away. I would never plant that grass.

Here in zone 5, I have successfully grown the following:

Sinensis Malepartus has blooms that come in August. The flowers are coppery, the flowers are white. The foliage turns a beautiful copper colour in the fall, and stays intact for the winter, unless hit by strong winds. I have it at the front of my house. I find it slowly clumping, with sterile seeds.

I also have the sinensis gracillimus ( maiden's hair) which I truly love. There are two types, one variegated, and one straight green. I have the green one, but my neighbour has the variegated one. Both are doing well.

Sinensis giganticus (goliath), which grows about 10 feet tall. I love it as a backdrop for my bog garden.

Blue oat grass, which I grow in an urn with the bottom cut out. It looks like a fountain in the part shade.

Japanese blood grass, which is about a foot tall, and grows as an ornament on the corner of a garden. Very impressive.

Miscanthus Sinensis ------- (zebra grass), which grows a little taller than the gracillimus (graciella), and is quite hardy. It has not yet bloomed for me.

some unknown blue grass which has never bloomed but has leaves about 3 feet long. Actually, it kind of flops onto the ground, and does not really do much for me. It was given to me by a friend in a trade.

Some sort of perennial hardy fountain grass, Pennestium I thing, but I can't remember the name... some type of perennial fountain grass good for zone 5 all memory fails me at the moment. It has been doing well for me. It grows about a foot tall, and is slowly spreading from the root. I became aware of it when a landscape contractor was picking up as much as he could when a nursery was going out of business. He knew that it would be a good bet for him here in zone 5. (Canada)

    Bookmark   January 28, 2005 at 6:07PM
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Calamagrostis brachytricha is a beautiful VERY HARDY grass that, for me, is about 3 feet tall in bloom. It is not sterile, and seedlings bloom for me their second year, though they do take 3 or 4 years to grow into a dazzling clump. I really recommend this one.


    Bookmark   January 30, 2005 at 2:30AM
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jake(z4b-5 NE)

".the sinensis gracillimus ( maiden's hair) which I truly love. There are two types, one variegated, and one straight green. I have the green one, but my neighbour has the variegated one. Both are doing well."

I have never heard of or read any literature pertaining to a variegated M.s. Gracillimus grass. Sounds most unusual or might it be that you are speaking of M.s. Strictus" or Porcupine Grass occasionally labeled or called M.s. Zebrinus "Strictus"?

Miscanthus Sinensis ------- (zebra grass), which grows a little taller than the gracillimus (graciella), I am thinking that this is Miscanthus sinensis "Zebrinus" or Zebra Grass. If not Isnt the grass M.s. graciella spelled graziella with a "z"?

I only say this as others will read these posts and any incorrect spelling will get carried into the next topic and future generations causing more problems then we have now identifying and talking about plants and grasses.


    Bookmark   February 10, 2005 at 6:49PM
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motria(z6 Chicago)

Northern sea oats (chasmanthium latifolium) are native to the Midwest, have nifty seed pods, and do well even in shade. See the separate posting regarding the potentially invasive nature. I'm growing this one from seed and am looking forward to the 3-5 year wait! ;-)

    Bookmark   March 18, 2005 at 7:52PM
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Might be the Miscanthus referred to as the variegated gracillimus is Miscanthus sinensis 'Variegatus'. This has the same shape as 'Gracillimus', and the same approx height 5-6 ft, but the leaves are wider on 'Variegatus'. Both are beautiful grasses, and by the way look very good together. I don't recommend seeds either, if they grow from seeds they will seed everywhere. Buy one, and divide as soon as they get big enough, and you can have quite a few plants in the years to come. Polly

    Bookmark   March 19, 2005 at 11:29AM
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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

Everything I talk about here is considered hardy in zone 5 unless I specify otherwise!

There are many, many different varieties of Miscanthus sinensis. The foliage ranges from very narrow to about 3/8" wide, and can be solid green or variegated. 'Zebrinus' is one of the wider bladed varieties and has horozontal yellow stripes. Some of the other variegated varieties, all with vertical variegations, are: 'Variegatus', 5-6' tall, 'Silberfeder', 4-5' tall, and one of my favorites, 'Morning Light', about 4' tall. They all have very narrow, arching foliage. In plain green there's BOTH 'Gracillimus', 6-7' tall AND 'Graziella', 5-6' tall. Also 'Autumn Light', 3-4' tall. There's also 'Purpurascens' the foliage of which can become quite red in the fall, however, whether or not it turns red, and how red it gets depends very much on the weather, so you really can't count on it. Personally, I think the vertically variegated ones are the prettiest.

Japanese blood grass, Imperata cylindrica 'Red Baron', only about a foot tall, can be very striking, but it's not reliably hardy in z5. It just depends on the micro climate where it happens to be planted.

A favorite of mine is Panicum virgatum 'Heavy Metal'. It's 3-4' tall and has real pretty metallic blue foliage with airy, switch grass blooms. All the Panicums I know of are hardy to at least z5.

In a shorter grass, my all-time favorite is Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Moudry'. It's about 3' tall with long, almost black foxtail-like blooms. It's the only grass I know of with such dark blooms, and I think it's extremely striking and effective.

Another grass that is very, very popular here in Denver right now is feather reed grass, Calamagrostis arundinacea 'Karl Foerster'. It's 4-5' tall and has a VERY vertical habit with lots of narrow vertical blooms. No arching here!

In the tall grasses, my favorites are pampas grass, Cortaderia selloana, in both the white and the pink, but they're not reliably hardy in z5--depends on just where they're planted like Japanese blood grass. A similar one that's referred to here in Denver as hardy pampas grass is Saccarum ravennae (previously Erianthus r.) It's slightly shorter than Cortaderia, but still very big and very similar. The blooms are somewhat less fluffy than real pampas grass, and not quite as pretty for indoor use, but it's still very effective outdoors. Plant a Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium maculatum 'Gateway' or 'Atropurpureum') next to it (5' tall with large purple flower clusters) and you'll have a WONDERFUL fall display!

Like everybody else, I pretty much recommend buying plants as opposed to starting seed, but if you're still looking for seed, I found pampas grass (Cortaderia) seed and a couple other grasses I've never heard of available at Pinetree Garden Seeds--paper catalog available online. And Park's Seed has an unnamed variety of Miscanthus sinensis and Festuca (blue fescue), plus 3 other tender perennial or annual grasses.

If you have any friends who have ornamental grasses, maybe they'll let you divide a little piece off of theirs. You'd only need a very small piece and you'd have a full size plant much faster than starting from seed.

I hope some of this helps you. There are a LOT more z5 grasses, and if you have any specific questions, I'll be glad to try to answer them. Ornamental grasses make a WONDERFUL statement in the garden and I hope you decide to try some of them.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2005 at 12:31AM
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jake(z4b-5 NE)

I do agree w/ Skybird in most of comments made but the one issue I have is P. a. "Moudry" has been a failure for me in z4b-5, however I think that P.a. "National Arboretum" is even better that "Moudry". I might think this as it has been a great performer for us in our beds and gardens.

Dark almost black inflorescence that open to a bottle brush cleaner shape. Very attractive and no problem as being invasive in our area.

Also I would include P.a. "Hameln".

I like P.v. Heavy Metal as the best Panicum grass but there are several others in this family that one should consider as well, such as "Prairie Sky", "Shenandoah" and "Cloud Nine".

Last but not least by any means I would suggest some of the native Schizachyrium scoparium "Little Bluestem" and S.s "The Blues"


    Bookmark   March 21, 2005 at 10:22AM
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jroot(5A Ont. Canada (near Guelph))

No comment from "seebachers". I guess he/she didn't like our comments.

PollyNY on Sat, Mar 19, 05 mentioned that the variegated gracillimus which I mentioned may be Miscanthus sinensis 'Variegatus', having the same shape as 'Gracillimus', and the same approx height 5-6 ft, but the leaves are wider on 'Variegatus'. I think she may be right, as my neighbour's grass is indeed wider than mine, and definitely variegated. He insists that it is a gracillimus, and he claims to be a landscape architect. However, when I saw it, I wondered if he had been misled.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2005 at 5:32PM
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blackie57(z5 NY Broome Co)

I concur Jroot, I don't believe I have ever seen a varigated Gracillimus, at least not in my area. Mine have some striation in the center of the foliage, but nothing like Variegatus.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2005 at 10:53AM
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AgastacheMan(z7 CA)

I have never had a 3-5 year wait for seedling to get to their potential ae of beauty, and never, never heard of "most ornamental grasses that seed are invasive, or most ornamental grasses have sterile seed". I have successfully raised the following and have had no problems in or outside the garden-Muhlenbergia capillaris and M. c. Regal Mist, Chasmanthium latifolium, Miscanthus sinensis, M. purpuracens, Molina caerula, Pennisetum alopecuroides, P. Little Bunny, and a whole list of Panicums, both cultivar and hybrid. But with this, I do agree not to grow grasses from seed if you want instant gratification, but it does not take 3-5 years as a general rule to grow selected grasses from seed.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2005 at 11:28AM
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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

Hi Seebachers,

If you're following this, are you still looking for seed? When I was reading some of the other threads, I found references to grass seed in the Jelitto catalog. When I looked I was surprised to find a fairly extensive selection. With the exchange rate these days though, most of them are pretty pricey!

Hey, JAKE, if you see this, can you tell me where I might find P. a. 'National Arboretum'? It's a variety I'm not familiar with---yet! Is it about the same size as 'Moudry'?

Thanks for any information

    Bookmark   March 22, 2005 at 1:44PM
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jake(z4b-5 NE)

A brief story about P.a. National Arboretum -
my wife saw this grass in Taylors Ornamental Grass book. It was listed as being or having black inflorescence.

We took a road trip to Bald Eagle Nursery in Fulton IL. where we have found and bought most of our "not everybody has one of these" ornamental grasses.

Rob, one of the B.E.N. owners said he got several splits or clippings from Longwood gardens (I believe) and grew them for sale. He might have gotten the splits from the National Arboretum in D.C. but I am not quite sure about that.

Our P.a. National Arboretum for the past 4 yrs has grown to about 28" hi w/ an arch width of 42"+/-. The inflorescence does open to a very deep wine / black color then turns to buff color when it dries out. Totally awesome!!!

Now as for locating P.a. National Arboretum in your area I have no idea.

Bald Eagle Nursery does not mail order/send plants so that would not be an answer. Sorry about not being able to give you better information than what I have. I would take "National" over "Moudry" any day.

A couple of are larger local nurseries have had "National" in their available plants for sale so I would think a good nursery around your area might be able to locate and stock a few plants.

You might try BlueBird Nursery in Nebraska as I know they are a perennial grower who sells and ships plants all over the world. Heres their email . Good luck and I dont think you will be disappointed should you get a couple National Arboretums for your garden or grass beds.


    Bookmark   March 22, 2005 at 5:12PM
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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

Thanks Jake! There's a guy here in Denver I can check with. He was my supervisor for a couple years until he bought his own garden center. He knows more about perennials than any other 10 people I know, and if he isn't growing it now, I bet he'll start when I tell him about it. The more unusual and harder the plant is to find, the more he likes it!

Thanks again for the information,

    Bookmark   March 22, 2005 at 11:00PM
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Mozart2(Zone 5 Michigan)


Don't know if you're still looking for ornamental grasses for your garden, but if you are here's my small contribution.

Sue and I live in Manistee, MI and since the town lies on Lake Michigan our climate is often moderated by the lake. Consequently, depending upon the severity of our winters, we may lie in zone 6 or zone 5. For that reason, I usually either purchase locally at the few better gardening areas or search for plants that are winter hardy to zone 5 or cooler.

One of my favorite sources of information is the superb "PlantFinder" search/informational tool, which is part of the Kemper Center for Home Gardening at the wonderful Missouri Botanical Garden.

This link will take you directly to their "seach" section. If you will scroll down a bit, you find a section called "Taxonomy" click on "Plant type" and select "ornamental grasses". Just below you'll see a section called "Plant requirements" go to the "zone" section and select "5".

The scroll down to the bottom of the page and submit your search. You'll then be taken to an extensive listing of plants by their botanical names, their common name(s); their approximate height, and then their appropriate zone range. Each of the botanical listing will provide you with a link to more detailed information and, in most cases, a photograph or two.

Here's a link to one of the grasses that I've added to our garden this fall. The plant is "Chasmanthium latifolium" also known - at this site - as "Inland Sea Oats" and by "Northern Sea Oats" on this forum.

Another ornamental grass which I have planted in our garden is Miscanthus 'Purpurascens', which goes by several common names, such as "Flame grass". In their "noteworthy features" sections, I noted the following statement: "Flame grass, as the common name suggests, is noted for its superior orange-red fall color. It is a compact, upright, warm season, clump-forming ornamental grass which typically grows to 3-4' (infrequently to 5') tall. Features medium green blades (1/2" wide) with a reddish tinge which gradually develop further reddish hues as summer progresses, eventually turning a brilliant orange-red in fall." Fortunately, I was able to find a local source and added two of this grass to our garden.

Here's the link:

FYI - you also note that this site does provide both local sources for St. Louis area gardeners and online sources for the rest of us. Another one of the wonderful feature of the search/informational tool of the superb Missouri Botanical Gardens. It is a must visit- especially in the second and third week in June when nearly everything is in bloom.

If you wish to take a "virtual tour" of some of this garden's delights here is the link for the tour.

If you scroll all the way down, there is a link to a more detailed/photographic tour of many sections of this outstanding garden.

But here's a direct link for a more detailed look.

Finally, if you wish to exlore the world of "Ornamental Grasses" further and also wish to have a handy reference guide available, you might consider the purchase of Rick Darke's "Timber Press Pocket Guide to Ornamental Grasses" or if you wish more extensive information you'll find it in his book "The Color Encyclopedia of Ornamental Grasses"

Well, I suspect that you know have more information than you thought possible or possibly wanted. ;>)

Best wishes in your gardening endeavors!!


    Bookmark   October 22, 2005 at 12:00PM
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glaswegian(5b, Ont)

To the experts on here, anyone know if any of these grasses can be planted in containers like the one in the pic below?

I ask because am running out of space, but still want some more OGs

    Bookmark   February 17, 2009 at 11:11AM
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