Find Beauty in the Winter Garden with Ornamental Grasses

With winter upon us many gardening-minded folks (including myself!), having put their gardens and lawns to bed for the winter, have thoughts of spring already dancing in their heads. But there are still sources of beauty that provide impressive visuals and dazzling foliage not only in the summer and fall months but throughout the winter season as well. What are they, you ask? Ornamental grasses of course!

The key to capturing this late season splendor is to keep your ornamental grasses uncut until spring, as they add a great deal of charm and interest to your winter garden. They can also provide food and habitat for our fine feathered friends who haven’t headed south for the winter.

While not every grass is able to prevail against the repeated battering of snow, sleet and wind throughout the season those that do turn wonderful shades of gold, wheat, and beige in preparation for colder days ahead.

Snow is perhaps the element that sets the grasses off most effectively, as it adheres nicely and allows a beautiful contrast with pines, spreading junipers and other evergreens, not to mention willows, birches and other deciduous trees with lovely colorations and markings on their bark. Frost can also lend an ethereal air to grasses, outlining their ghostly shapes, as seed heads, stems and leaves sway gently in the breeze and glisten on sunny winter days.

Many ornamental grasses are low maintenance and fairly durable and because many of the varieties do well in cooler conditions they are good bets for winter gardens.

The following are but a few of my favorite ornamental grasses (for my hardiness zone, 4-7) that will allow for practically year round enjoyment.

Maiden Grass miscanthus sinensis

“Gracillimus,” a name given to this species, translates to “very graceful” and this term describes this ornamental grass to the letter. It belongs to the broader miscanthus genus (all of which are equally beautiful) and is known primarily for its graceful, arching contours and silver-striped, sword-shaped leaves. Another identifier is its reddish-brown flower heads in fall (when the plant is at its tallest from six to eight feet high) that morph into gorgeous, silvery-white plumes as autumn proceeds and the stem reddens. By winter the grass turns a soft gold and allows for frost and snow to transform the stems and leaves into gently lilting bows.

Feather Reed Grass calamagrostis acutiflora

Unlike Maiden Grass this ornamental grass stands fully upright and its leaves and compact flowers provide a tidy, vertical line to the viewer. It also does well in containers, which is something I also really like, as they provide a nice hedge-like row along my patio edge, especially if they are on raised plant stands. The plant’s wispy, pinkish-hued flowers bloom in early summer though turn to a soft buff color, the stems and leaves to a warm toasted brown, in the fall and remain throughout the winter. When left intact this grass provides an almost columnar texture and presence against the stark winter backdrop and the dormant flowers really do mimic feathers, especially when coated in frost, hoar frost, or snow.

Blue Oat Grass helictotrichon sempervirens

This ornamental bunchgrass’ name literally translates to “immortal” but for gardeners “evergreen” will do just fine. Another ornamental that does well in containers, this grass grows in dense, arching, globular tufts with thin, blue-green/gray leaves that again describe the plant quite effectively. It’s tall, upright stems produce spiky seed heads that bloom in summer and last well into fall as they turn a mild wheat color against the still-vivid leaves. In winter, covered with snow or frost, this grass resembles an exploding firework, as the denseness and height of the growth doesn’t tend to droop as noticeably with weight as much as some of the taller grasses and the narrow leaves seem to echo strands of light.

Ornamental grasses accent a garden at any time of year, even in the bleakness of winter. Until spring graces us with her presence these stalwart grasses can provide structure and a unique aesthetic to an otherwise dormant garden-scape.

But perhaps most of all they are ever-present reminders that for as cold and dismal as it seems right now the clutch of winter will eventually succumb to the warm embrace of spring.

Until then hunker down, plan your garden and think spring!

Author bio: Daniel Novak is a lover of summer time, gardening and planting, art and design, cooking and spending time in his backyard oasis. He is currently a freelance writer for outdoor plant stand provider Avant Garden Decor. In his free time, Daniel enjoys attending garden shows and farmer’s markets, wildlife viewing and fishing.

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