Ask the Gardener: Tall grass

For exciting shape, colour and texture throughout the garden ornamental grasses are hard to beat.

Ask the Gardener: Tall grass

At this time of the year these grasses come into their own. They produce airy sprays of flowers and different coloured plumes that peep above and through the leaves, adding movement and colour to the late summer garden.

Grasses are easy to grow and they can be grown in a variety of locations. Taller grasses such as pampas and miscanthus can be used as great focal points in a border. Grasses with different coloured plumes and spectacular seed heads can be planted where they catch the late summer sun. This highlights the different reds, creams, oranges and oat colours of the flowers.

Shorter grasses can be planted in groups in between border plants as edging or to add a dash of colour to containers. The graceful sway of ornamental grasses provides valuable contrast in herbaceous and mixed borders and act as an excellent foil to brightly coloured flowers and shrubs.

Q. Can you tell me the correct time of year to cut back grasses?

A. As a general rule, deciduous ornamental grasses need to be cut back annually in spring and evergreens just need a tidy-up as required.

Q. I have a windy coastal garden and would like to grow some tall evergreen grasses that are hardy and maintenance-free, can you recommend any?

A. Cortaderia, commonly called pampas or tussock grass, is a tall hardy evergreen and can grow up to 8ft to 10ft tall and is particularly suited to coastal conditions. It develops a plume-like flower at this time of year in shades of white or pink. Stipa gigantea, commonly called golden oats, is another great option and can grow up to 8ft with tall spikelets that look like heads of oats, hence the name.

Q. Can you recommend some medium-sized grasses that will grow in damp semi-shade to shade.

A. Calamagrostis, commonly called reed grass, will grow in damp shade. Calamagrostis ‘Overdam’ is a nice one that grows to about 4ft. Molinia or purple moor grass also likes these conditions but it prefers neutral to acid soil, so keep this in mind if purchasing one of these impressive grasses.

Q. I would like to plant with a variety of coloured evergreen grasses in a gravel bed, can you recommend any?

A. Helictotrichon sempervirens, commonly called blue oat grass, is a blue-grey grass with straw-coloured flowers and grows to about 4ft tall. It looks quite striking when planted in a lightly-coloured stone bed. If this is too tall, try a smaller but similar looking grass called festuca glauca.

Stipa tenuissima, commonly called ponytails, is another grass that looks particularly good planted in groups in a stone bed. Although it is not evergreen, it holds its shape until it is cut back in the spring.

* If you have any gardening questions, you can contact Charlie by visiting www.thepavilion.ie, facebook.com/thepavilioncork , or via twitter @the_pavilion

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