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of Ornamental Grasses


The Annual Cycle
of Grasses


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Ones We Grow & Why


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WillowMist
123 Union Road
Stratham, NH 03885
603-944-3496
grasses@willowmist.com


The Annual Cycle of Grasses

Standing alongside a 7' tall Miscanthus in late August, it can feel unreal that you're looking at only the current year's growth - that most ornamental grasses are cut back every spring to just 4-8 " above the ground. That's just one of the great joys of grasses - watching the amazing progression in a single season from little green stump to autumn majesty, with so many different looks along the way.

The cool-season growers get up first, with a few blooming by the end of June, but in early summer pretty much everything else looks the same: green and growing, 3-4' tall, with little to tell them apart.

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for larger view

click on image
for larger view

Even the bluest varieties may start out green, and variegated forms may not show their banded colors until later.

Eventually, with enough weeks of 80+-degree temperatures, the flower "culms" begin to appear amidst the grass blades.

The Switch Grasses and Fountain Grasses typically will be breaking blooms by late July. The earliest Miscanthus ("Silver Grasses") will open in early to mid-August, with most of the rest following 2-3 weeks later. The latest-blooming varieties will not open until mid-September to October, or even November. In the coolest seasons, the latest varieties may bloom only minimally - but may be worthwhile for other virtues.

As the blooms get close to opening, the pointy, slightly bulging culms may seem to suddenly rise above the base foliage - some varieties more than others. Finally they split, and the grass's flowers begin to emerge.

Virtually everything grown at WillowMist opens in some shade of reddish-brown, from the silky tassels of the silver grasses to the tiny panicles of the switch grasses - even the bottle-brush or "foxtail" blooms of the fountain grasses.

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for larger view

click on image
for larger view

The blooms of many grasses, including the silver grasses, Indian grasses, and Feather Reed grasses, undergo major transformations over the course of the season.


Colors are usually most vibrant at opening, and the forms of the blooms are most open, gradually tightening up against the main stem and later going fluffy as autumn approaches.

About the same time as the trees begin to turn, most of the grasses will have begun transformation to their own autumn hues, which range from gold to burgundy to purple, and every shade of yellow and orange.

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for larger view

click on image
for larger view

Just like trees, some years are more spectacular than others, depending on the interacting pattern of heat and rain during that growing season.

As winter sets in, the grasses take on their dormancy colors, which are usually browns ranging from a light straw color to a darker bronzed or burnt copper look. For many, the winds begin to strip the seeds from the flowers, leaving a skeletal or filigreed look that will last right through the spring cutback, giving great winter interest to the yard.

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