An Ornamental Grass: Not Just for Turf Anymore

ornamental grasses

Coming into the horticulture industry years ago, I was a little wary of ornamental grasses. Just the thought of them confused me immensely “Why would I need more grass in my landscape when I have all this turf already?” It seems as though many people have this same thought process when they don’t know much about ornamental grasses, but I’ll be the first to tell you that I take it all back. I have been converted and am now a lover of ornamental grasses! One of my absolute favorites has to be a feather reed grass called Karl Foerster and even though it was introduced to the United States from Denmark 1964, it’s still a huge seller to gardeners today!

Being one of the first grasses to start growing in the spring, Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ is an early bloomer and considered a cool season grass. Cool season grasses tend to grow most vigorously at lower temperatures, between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. It will grow to be between 36-48” tall with green foliage. The flowers will grow to about six feet and are light green in spring and turn to a beautiful tan that will keep through winter. The seeds produced on this flower are sterile, which keeps the plant from reseeding and becoming invasive. The ideal conditions that Karl Foerster prefers is a full sunny spot with a moist to wet soil type. This grass tolerates a wide range of soil types, but thrives in clay soil. The USDA hardiness zone classifies this grass as a Zone 5-9. Even better news than all of this? There are no known serious disease or insect problems with this grass. (Hallelujah!)

When used in the landscape, there really is no limit to this ornamental grass. A benefit to using this grass is that it isn’t going to flop over, even from a heavy snowfall; it provides a wonderful vertical element to the garden! Some may use it as a border because of its moderate height but others may use it as a specimen plant. Being the wonderful vertical plant that it is, it provides beautiful movement to any garden, even with just the slightest breeze.

We often joke that here at Reiman Gardens, we may have the largest collection of Karl Foerster grass. We have it planted everywhere! Some notable spots to check out are in the South Field by the hummingbird LEGO® sculpture and the surrounding areas of the Campanile Garden. As employees of the Gardens, we have come to realize the power and practicality of this simple grass and have put it to work. I’ll never underestimate the versatility of an ornamental grass again; I’m a believer now!

By Carrington Flatness – Outdoor Horticulture Intern