Gardens & Conservatory

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Cut and divide: Spring care for ornamental grasses

By Tom Brinda and Lynn Kirk, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden
Published March 2009 in the Richmond Times-Dispatch

A major benefit of ornamental grasses is their ease of care. Classified as a perennial, they typically return each spring for several years and beautify the garden through all four seasons.

Springtime maintenance of ornamental grasses involves four easy steps:
* Cut back old, brown blades (last year’s growth) to 6-12 in. above ground. Pruning shears are recommended, since a lawn mower cuts too short and can injure new growth.
* Check the emerging shoots. If they seem crowded, dig up the entire plant and divide the root system into two to four pieces using a sharp shovel, knife or pruning tool.
* Replant the divided roots in holes equal in depth to the root length. For best performance, avoid burying roots too deep or allowing them to extend above ground.
* Water the new plantings. Once the plant becomes established, additional watering is seldom necessary since these plants are drought and heat tolerant.

Japanese wind grass: Perennial of the Year


Japanese Wind GrassWith hundreds of specimens on the market, ornamental grasses offer countless colors and forms with varying light and soil preferences. This diversity makes it easy to match the right grasses with the right spot in your garden.

To help with the selection process, check out the plant photos from Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, posted at www.lewisginter.org. Another excellent on-line resource is the Perennial Plant Association (PPA) at www.perennialplant.org. Members of this national organization vote annually to determine the Perennial of the Year®, based on a specimen’s reliability, performance, appearance and ease of maintenance.

The PPA’s 2009 winner is the golden hakone grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’) – an excellent choice for Richmond’s zone 8 planting region. Also known as Japanese wind grass, hakone is one of the few ornamental grasses that tolerates part shade. Its form is as wide as it is tall when fully grown, and it resembles bamboo. Hakone grass can be aggressive and overgrow smaller perennials, so space plants out and consider adding barriers to contain growth.

Hakone grass at a glance
(Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’)

Common Name Japanese wind grass
Hardiness USDA Zones 5-8
Soil Fertile, well drained but moist soil
Light Partial sun to light shade
Mature size 12-18 in. tall, 18-24 in. wide
Habit Low spreader with weeping foliage
Color Yellow blade with narrow green stripes in summer, pinkish red in autumn, bright tan in winter
Flower Dainty flowers from late summer through autumn
Performance Resistant to insects, disease, deer
Origin Japan
Uses Ground cover, rock and woodland gardens, mass and container plantings
Companions Contrasts well with blue leaved hostas, snakeroot, coral bell hybrids