Feeding Ornamental Grasses
I started this newsletter in early May with the intention
of giving you instructions on how to fertilize your ornamental
grasses. Most of you have them in the ground and may have given
the grasses a feeding by now, but at least this will give you
some info for next year.
Instructions regarding the feeding of ornamental grasses are
really very simple - don't do it. Well, actually that is a bit
of an exageration, but grasses actually prefer to be grown on
the lean side. They will be sturdier without the addition of
the high-powered nutrients. You may think that fertilizers such
as are used on lawns would be appropriate for grasses however
have you noticed how quickly the lawn grows after fertilizing?
Tall-growing ornamental grasses will bolt for the sky and with
such rapid growth will be unable to hold themselves up. Result
- floppy plants.
Just remember to go easy on organic fertilizers too. On the
Web Forum I have read a tale by an experienced ornamental
grass grower who worked a lot of compost into his planting hole.
The grasses flopped badly. In comparison, his grasses planted
without compost did fine.
The only exception to the rule is Miscanthus. It does better
with some extra fertilizer and moisture. The solution to the
potential flopping problem is to use organic fertilizers such
as well-rotted manure, mushroom manure, compost, leaf mold,
etc. What makes organic fertilizers acceptable is that they
release their nutrients sloooowly.
Have I convinced you? Limit your fertilizing!
Ornamental grasses, be they plugs or field-grown clumps, need
to be well watered their first year. The soil was fluffed up
when you dug the hole, so it will dry out faster. The plant's
roots are not well-established and some of the roots were lost
when the plant was dug up. This means that there aren't quite
as many roots to take care of the top growth as the plant had
planned. Readily accessible moisture makes the job of the roots
a whole lot easier.
Note: Mulch can be very useful the first year.
However, do not mulch right to the crown of
the plant. This can cause the crown to rot because of the constant
But the next year is a completely different story. Their root
systems should be well established, meaning they have gone deep
in search of water and nutrients. They can take care of themselves
for fairly lengthy periods of time, especially as they get older.
If you have a layer of mulch, they can fend for themselves for
longer. However, excessive watering will cause them to flop.
Have you ever grown Achillea (Yarrow) in rich moist soil? Same
problem. These plants want to live a spartan existence.
It is very important to plant your ornamental grasses so that
the crown of the plant is level with the soil's surface. Some
grasses, in particular Helictotrichon and Pennisetum, are very
sensitive to being planted too deep. The crown rots and the
NOTE: The following instructions are no longer the
suggested method for planting plugs. Simply plant them
them as you would any other plant, paying particular attention
to firming the soil around the plant, planting so the crown
is level with the soil, and watering well. We now have a video
on You Tube, though the quality is not very good. It is suggested
that you visit YouTube and watch it in High Quality (see the
link immediately below the video window): Bluestem's
Video on Planting Ornamental Grasses.
Plugs are very popular this year. If you receive plugs
that have a packed mass of roots, then cut those roots. Just
take a knife or pruners and make a cut about an inch deep. Then
spread the halves apart. I know it seems like you are going
to kill the plant, but you are actually being kind to it. That
tightly packed mass of roots was going to take a long time to
find its way out into the soil. With the cuts they find freedom
|Cut and spread
I expect you already know, but I would be negligent if I didn't
mention that the plugs or the field clumps must be thoroughly
watered after transplanting. A good soaking gets rid of any
air pockets that might have formed. Those air pockets cause
the roots to dry out, even though the roots are under the ground.
Willow shipping is over for this year with the possible exception
that their may be a few plugs available after we plant our fields.
We will use this newsletter to notify you of any that are available.
The interest in willows is growing just as I had anticipated
and we are growing more stock to meet the demand. The interest
in living willow structures is also growing tremendously and
with articles coming out in gardening magazines (we have asked
them to hold back until we have a good supply of willow rods).
Next year we hope to have enough to supply most or all of those
wanting to make fedges, living willow arbours, chairs, teepees,
New Ornamental Grass
Erin Hynes, President of the Minnesota
Ornamental Grass Society, has written a booklet called "Cold
Climate Ornamental Grasses - The Little Guide to the Biggest
Thing in Gardening". It has pictures, basic information,
and easily fits in a pocket so that you can take it with you
on a trip to the nursery. The cost is US$10. Contact Erin:
Harris, garden writer, has a website that is worth visiting.
She has many interesting articles on her website as well as
pictures of her Toronto garden.
If you would like to use or reprint any of this information,
the answer is usually yes -- but please contact
us first. We ask that you include a link to our website
and mention the source of the information.
Rather than a humorous quote I suggest you read this amusing