Ornamental grasses add variety and a natural feel to landscapes. They can be used in groups or as specimens that will catch the eye through the winter. Most grasses are happy without supplemental water and only need to be cut back once a year in the spring. There are many types of ornamental grasses but a few stand above the rest because of their appearance and hardiness in Michigan's climate.
1. Feather Reed Grass (Calamagrostis)
Feather Reed Grass has two qualities that set it apart from the rest on this list. The first is that it is a cool season grass. This means it puts almost all of its growth on during the spring once temperatures reach the 50's. Many of the other grasses don't get much size until around June or July. This means Feather Reed Grass compliments later blooming flowers like Black Eyed Susans and Autumn Joy Sedum nicely. The second is that that Feather Reed Grass has stiff , upright stalks unlike the cascading appearance of Fountain and Silver Grass. This appearance works well in certain situations where other grasses might appear too busy.
2. Fountain Grass (Pennisetum)
Fountain Grasses are known for large, showy seed heads. Many varieties are on the shorter side, although larger varieties do exist. Dwarf Fountain Grasses such as "Hameln" and "Little Bunny"are great for adding flare to gardens with space restrictions. Fountain Grasses also do well in low water conditions.
3. Switch Grass (Panicum)
Native to Michigan, along with much of the rest of the Midwest and Central United States, Switch Grass is great for naturalization. It has a wild look but does a good job of staying in neat clumps that don't grow out of hand. It's a medium sized grass growing 3 - 4 ft. tall. It's a good option for native gardens and tough areas like next to heavily salted pavement. Two popular varieties are "Shenandoah", which has a reddish tint and "Heavy Metal" which has a bluish tint.
4. Silver Grass (Miscanthus)
Silver Grass makes a statement! Most large grasses you see in Michigan are likely Silver Grass. Many varieties grow to be around 6 ft. tall but there are types of Miscanthus that get up to 12 ft. tall. Silver Grass is beautiful and a great option for larger landscapes. It also works well as an alternative option for hedges. Unfortunately, Silver Grass takes more care than some other types of grass. Since the plants tend to be bigger, there is more to clean up in the spring. Miscanthus also spreads horizontally through rhizomes. This means the plants can become overwhelmingly wide if not occasionally cut back.
5. Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium)
Little Bluestem is another great option for naturalization projects. It grows naturally in most of the U.S. It's a little shorter than Switch Grass. It also has a different color and texture. Little Bluestem can be used in place of Switch Grass or along side it to create a prairie feel.