Ornamental grasses from seed?

linnea56(z5 IL)October 2, 2006

This is my first time on this forum. I was hoping to find a FAQ for all my dumb grass questions (questions dumb, not grass. Grass pretty).

Can you grow ornamental grasses from seed? I mean, heck, they make so much seed. Is it tricky to germinate or something?

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Growing grass from seed is one of my favorite things. Here's my list so far:

Anthoxanthum odoratum.. Sweet Vernal Grass
Briza maxima.. Annual Quaking Grass
Briza media.. Quaking Grass
Calamagrostis brachytricha..Fall Blooming Feather Reed Grass
Carex comans 'Bronze Form'..Bronze New Zealand Hair Sedge
Carex grayi.. Gray's Sedge
Carex muskingumensis.. Palm Sedge
Chasmanthium latifolium.. Northern Sea Oats
Cortaderia selloana.. Pampas Grass
Deschampsia caespitosa.. Tufted Hairgrass
Eragrostis spectabilis.. Purple Love Grass
Festuca gigantea.. Giant Fescue
Festuca glauca.. Blue Fescue
Festuca mairei.. Maire's Fescue
Festuca scoparia.. syn. Festuca gautieri..Bearskin Fescue
Helictotrichon sempervirens..Blue Oat Grass
Hystrix patula.. Bottlebrush Grass
Lagurus ovatus.. Bunny Tails - Annual
Luzula nivea.. Snowy Woodrush
Luzula sylvatica.. Greater Woodrush
Miscanthus sinensis 'Central Park'..Maiden Grass
Miscanthus sinensis.. 'New Hybrids'..Maiden Grass, Eulalia Grass
Nassella tenuissima.. Mexican Feather Grass
Panicum virgatum.. Switch Grass
Panicum virgatum 'Strictum'..Switch Grass
Pennisetum glaucum 'Purple Majesty'..Ornamental Millet..Annual
Pennisetum alopecuroides.. Fountain Grass
Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Moudry'.. Black Seeded Fountain Grass
Pennisetum orientale..Oriental Fountain Grass
Saccharum ravennae..Ravenna Grass
Sesleria caerulea.. Blue Moor Grass
Setaria faberi.. Giant Foxtail - Annual
Sporobolus heterolepis..Prairie Dropseed
Stipa capillata.. Feather Grass
Tridens flavus.. Purple Top

It's easy to do. I use winter sowing techniques, and start them outdoors.

The best single source for seeds is Jelitto which is currently listing 170 different kinds. Don't worry that they're in Germany, they ship US orders from Louisville, KY.

    Bookmark   October 3, 2006 at 5:58AM
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Donn, your list is impressive!!

I'm planning too to grow some grasses from seed this winter. Here's the seeds I have, all collected in public parks in France during my holidays: stipa tenuissima, pennisetum Purple Majesty, penn. villosum and a black flowered pennisetum (Moudry?).

When do you think it is the best time to sow them in zone 9a? Thanks!

    Bookmark   October 3, 2006 at 10:44AM
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linnea56(z5 IL)

I'm impressed too!
If collected from a plant, how do you tell if the seed is ripe? And isn't there a possibility that it has cross-pollinated with a different kind of grass?

    Bookmark   October 3, 2006 at 11:21AM
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Alchemilla..I'd sow all of them in early spring. They'll all need temps in the 70F+ range to germinate, with 'Moudry' germinating a little cooler.

P. villosum is zone 9-10 hardy, so you might want to give it the warmest microclimate in your garden. 'Purple Majesty' is an annual. In my zone, in a container, it reached 5'+ this year, so give it room. 'Moudry' is an aggressive reseeder, so watch for that. Stipa tenuissima (now called Nassella tenuissima) is an erratic germinator, which will sprout over a long period of time. Mine have started sprouting in early May, and kept sprouting into July.

linnea56..grass seed is ripe when it falls off the seedhead/plume/panicle by itself. The best way to check is to use a large paper grocery bag. Bend a plume down into the bag and shake it gently. If the seed is ready, it'll fall off in the bag. At this point, I strip the plume right into the bag. Different plumes on the same plant ripen at different times.

Cross-pollination generally isn't much of a problem with grasses, but they will frequently vary from the parent to some extent. If you grow several different cultivars of one type of grass together in the same bed, you'll get more variation in seedgrown plants.

Named cultivars can almost be counted on to grow differently from seed. Most commonly, they revert to the species. Seed from species grasses come true much more regularly. The most common differences in seed-grown grasses from named cultivars is in lack of colors and variegation.

    Bookmark   October 3, 2006 at 12:43PM
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Will the purple majesty seed more or less true since its an F1 hybrid? I saved my seed this year and was going to experiment, since I paid almost 5 dollars for 8 seeds. ouch.

    Bookmark   October 8, 2006 at 8:56PM
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I grew 'Purple Majesty' from seeds in a trade this year, and they weren't quite as purple as in the photos from the seed vendors. That may be because I had them in containers, and not in full sun. The did, however hit 5' tall and bore several seed stalks each. I'd estimate they got to 50/50 purple/green. Very attractive grass, which I'll try in the ground in full sun next year.

    Bookmark   October 9, 2006 at 5:50AM
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donn, i just returned from Orlando and saw that Disney was using Purple Majesty extensively in their park's landscaping. Everywhere from containers to massed plantings. It looked very nice. I'm still trying to get past my wife's 'burnt corn' comment...lol.

    Bookmark   October 10, 2006 at 4:47PM
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As fast as it grows here, it must be a holy terror in Orlando. Do they grow them from plugs, or start them from seed? Do places like Disney World run their own greenhouses and landscape operations, or do they farm it out?

    Bookmark   October 10, 2006 at 6:21PM
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I'm sure they bring them in as plugs or likely larger.

Disney has greenhouse operations on the property, owned by Disney. They can grow things on or just hold for a while.

    Bookmark   October 10, 2006 at 9:46PM
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I am thinking of growing Stipa tenuissima from seed. Is this easy and reliable? ALso I am told they are evergreen but have just looked on a coouple of sites that say they need cutting back in spring and die in Winter. Which is right?

    Bookmark   June 21, 2007 at 2:36PM
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Josh, They're both right. Stipa (now renamed Nassella) tenuissima is evergreen in warm climates, however it isn't even reliably hardy in zones colder than 7. I grow them from seed, and I cut them back in early spring.

Here's a trio, guarding one of my onion beds:

That pic was taken on April 24, after the grasses had been trimmed on March 31. Here's what they look like today:

They were in gallon pots when I trimmed them, after spending the winter buried in the top of my compost bin. They were about 1/3 green and 2/3 brown.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2007 at 3:39PM
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friesfan1(5b NW-KS)

I love Mexican Feather grass, however, for my zone
it won't last the winter :-(

I see that some people have what
looks like a MF look alike grass, but have no idea
what it really is. I was told it was morning light miscathus.
But I don't believe so, since I just purchased several.
They are not alike in texture.

I even bought some from the green house, [ the
look alike plant] that they dug up
for me, which I think is misnamed. It survives every
winter for them. Mine however died. We had a sudden
freeze, with temps down into the teens for two days.

I would love a replacement plant, but won't ask.
Maybe I should have mulched this as well!

z 5b KS

    Bookmark   June 23, 2007 at 5:06PM
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donn - I see you are in LI zone 7 - I am in CT zone 6a I was wondering if Stipa tenuissima might have a chance at surviving here whether started from seed, planted outside for summer then brought in for the winter or just left out all year ? I have a full sun, dry hill it would be perfect on. thanks.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2008 at 1:09PM
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I've had great success growing Blue Fescue from seed, although the seedlings will vary (one of mine was green without a tinge of blue). I've also had a lot of Mexican feather grass and River oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) come up as volunteers from seeds. River oats is actually quite weedy in that regard.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2008 at 11:44AM
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terrene(5b MA)

I have winter-sown six types of grasses this year. Most of them are native prairie grasses.

Androprogon gerardii - Big bluestem
Bouteloua curtipendula - Side oats grama
Chasmanthium latifolium - Northern sea oats or River oats
Lagurus ovatus - Bunny Tail grass
Schizachyrium scoparium - Little bluestem
Sorgastrum nutans - Indian grass

I winter-sowed them April 12, in 1 and 2 liter bottles, with little hunks of seeds. The plan was to get plugs of grasses going this year. After an unusally warm stretch in mid-late April, most were sprouted by the end of April.

Still waiting on the Chasmanthium, which has not sprouted yet. Supposedly it can be a good reseeder, so I'm not expecting it to be difficult to sprout, and the seeds are commercial purchased this year. Maybe it just needs warmer temps than the others.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2008 at 6:07AM
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