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.
It's January and although there are no flowers, there are still many beautiful examples of landscapes that are interesting year round. When choosing plants, it's easy to get caught up in showy pictures of flowering plants that don't depict the visuals you'll get for the majority of the year. Almost any landscape can benefit from the presence of flowers but time should be taken to consider all 4 seasons. This will ensure that there isn't a burst of interest in the spring leaving the rest of the year drab and boring.
Michigan summers can be hot. Most people don't want to have to do a lot of yard work in August. After the spring growth spurt, hedges can become unruly so should be used sparingly. Drought like conditions are not uncommon. Certain plants, especially non-native perennials, can need lots of water. This can be a pain without an irrigation system. Shade trees can make a yard much more enjoyable during the hottest part of the year by adding some much needed shade to parts of the yard that are used the most.
Many plants have interesting fall foliage but some more than others. Japanese Maple "Blood Good", burning bushes and staghorn sumac are some examples of plants that turn a vivid red color that can brighten up the landscape. Sugar maples, viburnums, oakleaf hydrangea, and smoke bush also have interesting colors that range from yellow to purple. When choosing trees for summer shade, remember that more trees means more leaves to clean up in October.
Winter is when evergreens shine. They're often the only color around come February. Many of them look great topped with fresh snow as well. Evergreen shrubs work well against foundations to add texture between homes and the ground once perennials have died back and deciduous plants have lost their leaves. There are options like junipers and birds nest spruce that need very little pruning compared to yews and box woods. Some shrubs like holly and barberries get bright red berries that look nice while simultaneously providing food for birds. Ornamental grasses, red twigged dogwoods and birch trees are also favorites for providing winter interest.
While a landscape design shouldn't fixate on spring time, it wouldn't be the same without some colors and smells to signify the end of winter. Many of the earliest bloomers grow from bulbs like tulips, daffodils, and grape hyacinth that have to be planted in the fall. Some of the most impressive displays of flowers come from ornamental trees like crab apples and cherry trees. Many shrubs also have spring flowers, such as viburnums, which can also have incredible smells.
It's good to go through each season and make sure there is something that will stand out throughout the year. Planning before the landscape project can create a more attractive, functional and hassle free landscape that can be enjoyed for years to come.
Grass Planting in Ann Arbor, MI
If there is an area in your yard that needs grass seed planted, you might be wondering when the best time to put seed down is. In Michigan and the rest of the Midwest, seed can be planted from April through October. However, for a variety of reasons, the month of September is ideal.
The turf grasses used in Michigan are cool season grasses. Common types include Kentucky Bluegrass, rye and fescue. These grasses germinate best when day time temperatures are between 60 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit, which typically happens by the second half of September. Ideal temperatures mean quicker germination and the sooner the grass fills in, the less time weeds have to take over. Although grass planted at the end of October will sprout, a hard frost when seedlings are small can have a negative effect. By planting in September the grass will have time to become established before it goes dormant for the winter.
Another benefit to planting in September over April of May is that there are less weed seeds for the grass to compete with. In the spring, the temperatures are right, but many weed seeds can be lying dormant from the year before. Most weeds sprout at higher temperatures than the previously stated grasses but far before the turf would have completely filled in. Because of this, a spring planted lawn will usually end up with more weeds than one started in the fall.
Lastly, with fall comes more frequent rain than in the summer. Soil moisture is needed for about one week to get ryes and fescues to sprout and up to a month for bluegrass. After seeds sprout, watering is still needed on a regular basis for a few weeks. The rainy season means less time is spent watering with a hose or sprinklers, saving time and money.
If time is of the essence, you can get grass to grow from spring through fall. If you want a nice, full lawn without weeds, September is the time to do it. Not only will the final product be superior, but it will take less work. Next spring when others are starting their grass planting projects, your lawn will already be alive and thriving.