Are Ornamental Grasses An Option?

garden_obsessed(5)October 29, 2005


I don't post often but I enjoy reading posts of others and would like to first thank you all, I have learned so much!

I have a wooded area which I have cleared of weeds. The area is about 30' deep by 185' wide. There is a narrow strip of golf course and other homes on the other side. I have left the nice big trees but I would like to screen off the golf course and homes because I find the golf carts to be very distracting. If possible, I would also like to plant something that would grow thick enough to prevent or "catch"/slow down golf balls from flying into our yard. I thought it would be nice to plant ornamental grass back there but I don't know if this would be an option because of what I would need:

1. Height - Must be over 4 foot tall to provide privacy

2. Can be either clumping or spreading

3. More interested in thick growing grass that will stay tall vs fancy flowering grasses but anything pretty is a bonus!

4. Soil is very draining and loose, not heavy

5. Need grass that I don't have to water all the time after established

6. Wooded area faces south but the trees make dappled shade. Depending on the area, there's about 3 - 4 hours of sun per day, most areas are dappled sun all day.

Is ornamental grass an option for me? If so, what do you recommend? I've seen some really tall grasses in landscaping books that would be perfect but I don't know if they can grow with dappled sun. I'd really appreciate your suggestions.


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Probably not, G.O. While there are lots of ornamental grasses that will thrive in "dappled shade," I can't think of any that will exceed 4' in height, and be able to slow down an errant golf ball.

Maybe a screen of nice conifers, fronted by lower growing woodland ornamental grasses?

    Bookmark   October 29, 2005 at 7:46PM
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katob Z6ish, NE Pa

I'd go with the conifers too, the only grass I could think of for part shade would be a bamboo -which might be alot more money and much harder to find. Plus you're a little cold in zone 5 for most bamboos (although Fargesia rufa could be perfect- it's on my wish list!)

    Bookmark   October 29, 2005 at 11:40PM
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jake(z4b-5 NE)

I agree w/ above comments. No tall grasses in the shade (generally speaking) and the other not mentioned fact is you cut back the grasses in the spring which leaves a wide open space until mid - late summer.

This is not what you want therefore grasses are not a good option.

Conifers it is.


    Bookmark   November 1, 2005 at 2:15PM
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Northern Sea Oats, Chasmanthium latifolium, might work in the location you described. It will grow fine in shade, compared to most grasses. It also will spread by seeds, which could be a plus in this case. It is primarily clumping in habit and will grow about 3-4' tall. Has a bamboolike appearance, with attractive seed heads in late summer and full, and nice winter color. One of my favorite ornamental grasses.

Some of the smaller Miscanthus varieties, such as Adagio, could also work but would be expensive to cover such a large area. What is good about N. Sea Oats (or River oats) is that you could actually establish it with seeds for minimal cost. the grasses wouldn't grow to full size until 2-3 years, but it wouldn't cost much.

Some other native grasses could also be grown from seed -- such as broomsedge (Andropogon) and little bluestem -- but might not handle the shade as well as river oats.

    Bookmark   November 1, 2005 at 3:30PM
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Not so fast, naysayers. There are Orn.Grasses that will grow well in partial sun. Yes, full sun is best for all tall growers, but some grow fairly well without it. And your soil conditions are apparently good; only remember that most grasses (all listed here) need moist, well draining soil; and low fertility, as provided by nature alone. Mulching will help. And be sure the trees are not Maples or Hemlocks.

Chasmanthium is a great recommendation (it prefers partial sun/shade), and the description given is worth reading again. Hardy Fargesias are clump-growing and will work well too. Between them, for foliage contrast, you could grow some cultivars of Miscanthus sinensis. Those that have worked for me in my zone 5 garden in less than full sun are M.s. 'Gracillimus' and 'Variegatus.' M. 'Purpurascens' will do well, too, but probably not take on its beautiful fall colors; it's a handsome grass, though, and it will flower in partial sun. Grown in full sun in my garden, M.s. 'Strictus' and/or 'Zebrinus' are said to grow in partial sun (try the former; it's more upright).

Other grasses that will do well in your conditions are Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster' and a real beauty: Calamagrostis bachitrycha (now reclassified as Stipa b., but available under both names). The latter is sublime when in flower and will do so in partial sun. Miscanthus might not flower, but who cares; their foliage is great, and 'Variegatus' makes a striking specimen.

For lower growing grasses (2-3') at the perimeter, try Achnatherum calamagrostis; it does not require full sun, and four hours of direct sun ought to do the trick. The same with any of the Deschampsia caespitosa cultivars. Even some Panicum virgatum cultivars are worth a try (presuming site really does get 3-4 hours direct sun).

If interested, check out the best book on OGs and their requirements: Color Encyclopedia of Ornamental Grasses by Rick Darke. Email me if you need good, inexpensive sources, especially for the Achnatherum.

    Bookmark   November 1, 2005 at 6:34PM
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Pudge 2b

Would this not be an area where Ribbon Grass (phalaris arundinacea) could be used effectively? Given its invasive nature, it would fill in the area quickly and isn't so fussy about full sun, soil or water. I'm picturing a beautiful mass planting of the variegated form under a high canopy of trees and it's looking quite lovely in my mind.

Ribbon grass isn't so invasive in my yard (I've had worse) however I've read horror stories about this grass so Garden Obsessed, if you entertain this suggestion at all, research it well. I'm sure the grass gurus on this forum will provide you with reasons not to plant it. But I'm one that believes every plant has a place, you just gotta find it.

(Jeez, I'm almost afraid to hit 'submit', LOL)

    Bookmark   November 2, 2005 at 8:51PM
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well_rooted(5, BC Canada)

I would plant OG's in the sunnier places. I have read of people having success with Miscanthus purpurascens in less than 6 hrs of sun a day. I am not sure that the other grasses mentioned will really give you much privacy nor stop a golf ball. They are very pretty though!

Have you considered using some native shrubs as well? Aronia comes to mind as a shrub that is an understory plant, has nice flowers and nice berries. Another possibility would be willows as they grow really quickly!! You would have privacy in a few weeks.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2005 at 1:38PM
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This is another occasion (the other being the zone 4 river bottom) where I think it makes a lot of sense to turn to shrubs and understory species native to that setting for the type (height/density) of screen desired. Conifers are an excellent choice as anchors in that design and the sorts of native shrubs mentioned by well rooted in the previous post.

I agree also that some foreground OG's would be beautiful (Calamagr. brachytricha, 'Morning Light' Miscanthus, Chas. Latifolia all seem like nice options as well as others previously listed. Beware of Phalaris a. 'aka' Ribbon Grass' unless prepared to contain it with a rhizome buffer or hack away at it annually. It will run vigorously if happy. If contained in a buffered area it is beautiful but rather low and will not do diddly to help screen the golf carts!

Lilac hedge? Forsythia? conifer? Viburnum? Dogwood? Willow? Good luck!

    Bookmark   November 6, 2005 at 5:49PM
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Hello everyone!
I've been away from my computer for a bit, I've been enjoying the unusually beautiful weather we've been having in Northern Illinois!

Thank you everyone, for your replies! I have read all of your suggestions and I'm going to look up images of all the grasses and other plants suggested.

Kato, I liked your idea of the bamboo. I actually purchased a Fargesia rufa thru a catalogue in the spring. Unfortunately it arrived in terrible condition, I called the company and they insisted it would grow. It's still there, all 5 "blades" standing straight up, but there has been absolutely no growth. I'm hoping it grew underground this year and that it will come back to life above ground next year. I realize how crazy that sounds but I'm an optimist, lol!

BruMeta, my trees are not hemlocks or maples so maybe I do have a chance at some ornamental grasses. I am interested in learning more about Chasmanthium and Achnatherum Calamagrostis so I'm going to do some googling on that. Thank you for the offer of providing me with sources, I may take you up on that in a month or two when I make some plans. The book is on my wish list!

Pudge, ribbon grass is beautiful, but I have another place in my yard I'd like to try that! I looked at your "my page" and your flowers are beautiful! Are those delphiniums?

Well rooted, yes, I'm also seriously considering native shrubs. In fact, I just bought 6 Japanese Kerria shrubs, (I know that's not native to Illinois but it's a shrub), from Home Depot on clearance for $7.85 each. At that price I thought I'd give them a try. Honestly, I'm not a fan of willows. I'm not sure why but I just don't like the look. Maybe I haven't seen nice ones.

Pezhead, you mentioned lilacs and viburnum. I like both of these but didn't know they'd grow in partial sun. I would be interested to know if they'd stay full and lush or get thin and leggy. If they'd stay full I'd definately consider them!

Donn and Jake, you mentioned conifers. I thought of that but I can't seem to find any that will grow in my conditions without getting thin.

Dawgie, I have some Northern Sea Oats grass I could transplant from elsewhere in my yard to give it a try. They've become huge clumps of grass, I didn't realize they spread by seed! That explains why I have it growing in all of my flower beds, lol. My clumps have never grown larger than 1-1/2' - 2' tall though, and they're in full sun.

I like to spend my winter planning for the next season so thanks again for all of your suggestions! If you have any others, let me know! Maybe I should raise the tree canopy a bit to let in a little more light and have more planting options. I think I'm going to try for a mix of plants and grasses.


    Bookmark   November 8, 2005 at 11:08PM
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