Tall Grasses

Written by Helen Glenn Court
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What's your first thought when it comes to walls and privacy along a property line or within a garden? Brick, perhaps, or stone, maybe a wooden fence, each of these has its place, but can be costly and imposing. Wood fences need maintenance. Trees and shrubs are wonderful but take both patience and careful planning. Flowering vines and trellises are another possibility.

But when it comes to fast growing plants that offer not only complete privacy but flexibility, texture, and marvelous foliage as well, look hard at the tall ornamental grasses. Airy and graceful, they're hardy, low maintenance, and lovely on their own. What's more, they "work and play well with others," and remarkably well at that. Furthermore, there's nothing to prune, nothing to rake up, and they need at best only an annual grooming.

Most grasses--tall and short, clumping and running--tend to prefer full sun, of course. A great many, however, do well enough in slightly filtered and partly dappled light. The other aversion that grasses have is clay. They vastly prefer an organically rich soil that's well drained to boot. The more compost they get, the happier they'll be.

A Brochure of Tall Grasses

One grass you want to stay away from, only because it's rather aggressive, is ribbon grass. While attractive and distinctive, it's also undeniably something of a garden thug and, like the schoolyard bully, sometimes hard to be rid of. Blue switch grass (Panicum virgatum), however, is a good guy. The "Heavy Metal" variety hits five to six feet but only in full sun. "Prairie Sky" is not unalike but turns honey gold in the fall. They pair well. Miscanthus is deservedly popular, and tolerates light shade as well. Giant silver grass (M. floridus) runs from six to eight feet. Feather reed grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora) comes in several varieties, grows four to six feet, and also tolerates light shade.

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