I have a confession: I’m not a huge fan of autumn. Tree leaf colors are gorgeous and all but I don’t care for all the plant degeneration and death. And I don’t like goodbyes. I want my garden to be “summer” all year. I know that’s silly. But it’s the truth.
The upside to the decline is that it affords me a chance for some serious garden puttering. There are always several plants that don’t look right or perform well in the spot they’re in and need to be re-located. Cooler temperatures mean they won’t suffer transplant shock. And moist soil from fall rains makes digging a lot easier and will take over the watering chore.
Years ago, back in 2002, if my records are correct, I planted a one-gallon Miscanthus sinensis “Cosmopolitan.”
In plain-speak, we’re talking about a very tall, green-and-white ornamental grass. It’s a showy thing, looking sort of rare and tropical, but it’s neither. It per-formed well for many years as did the surrounding plants, including a fence-row of English Laurel which served as a privacy barrier from the neighbor’s upstairs windows.
But English Laurel doesn’t know when to quit and needs constant pruning to keep it in bounds, a chore I ignored for far too long be-cause it dwarfed and shaded the poor ornamental grass to the point of near death.
Last fall, power tools in hand, my trusty son and I got my Laurels back into shape. When that huge undertaking was complete, I turned my attention to saving my Cosmopolitan. Despite moist soil, it was diﬃcult to dig but eventually I was able to salvage four chunks. I re-planted them and they’re looking pretty decent this year.
I mention all of this, not just so you won’t neglect your Laurels like I did, but because fall, despite all its downsides, is when most ornamental grasses are at their absolute best. If you’re thinking of adding a few of these low maintenance plants to your landscape, now is the best time to observe them and take notes on which ones would work best.
And it’s a great time to plant them, which will allow plenty of time to get established and look great in next year’s garden.
Most ornamental grasses re-quire very little water once established. Other varieties want at least a half-day of sunshine but there are some that do fine in full shade, such as Japanese Forest Grass and many of the Carex varieties. In late winter to early spring the old stuff can be cut off and eventually, if the plant gets too big for its spot, it can be divided.
Ornamental grasses also look great in containers either all by themselves or as a vertical or trailing element in a mixed arrangement.
Because ornamental grasses can be red, yellow, blue-gray or variegated, gar-den designers love to use them to provide a color echo or textural contrast to a border.
My original idea with the Cosmopolitan was to color echo its green and white leaves with the variegated dogwood shrub (Cornus alba “Argenteovar-iegata”) on the opposite side of the border with white ﬂowers in between. But just like the seasons, ideas change and we’ll see what happens next year.