How Grasses Grow
All grasses are broadly divided into three main categories - annually growing grasses, biennially growing grasses and perennially growing grasses. The annual grasses exist for a full year, living for their entire life span. They are propagated from their seeds, and have leaves, roots, and stems and also bear flowers. They pass away in one season. The majority of the grasses that form our staple food are from the annual variety. On many occasions, the annually growing ornamental grasses go unnoticed. However, several of them are genuinely attractive and can be grown without any difficulty.
Even the biennially growing grasses are propagated from their seeds and their growth continues throughout the season. They grow throughout the winter and maintain the growth during the following season, when they blossom and eventually wither away.
On the other hand, perennially growing grasses survive and keep growing for over two consecutive seasons. In fact, most of the significant and eye-catching ornamental grasses belong to the perennial category. Several species of perennial grasses live for an extremely long period, often persevering for a few decades! Such ornamental grasses may also be herb-like, timbered or semi-woody. In effect, the major collection of woody grasses is also the biggest group of genuine grasses - the bamboos.
Another interesting thing about grasses is that while some of them are annual in one climatic condition, the same grasses are perennial when grown in a different climatic condition. For instance, while the tender fountain grass (botanical name Pennisetum setaceum) is a perennial grass when grown in the placid Mediterranean climate prevailing in South California, it is regarded to be an annual variety when grown in the Pacific Northwest. In addition, every variety of grass has different levels of acceptance of heat and cold and also responds dissimilarly in different climatic conditions. Time and again, a very small distance like 20 miles may even cause a difference in the climatic condition wherein a specific grass may just be regarded as an annual variety, from another climatic condition where the same species may considered to be perennial.
Seasons of growth
All species of ornamental grasses are broadly categorized into two groups - warm season grass and cold season grass, conditional on the time of the year when their growth is robust. Precisely speaking, the growth of warm season species is most active when the temperatures start rising during the spring. Grasses belonging to this category blossom as well as produce seeds during the summer and in the fall, following which they turn out to be inactive with the commencement of winter. On the other hand, the cool season grass species have their active growth period during the later part of winter or during the beginning of spring. They bear flowers during the period between winter and the beginning of summer, and subsequently turn out to be latent or their growth slows down during summer. The active growth of the cool season species begins again when the temperatures start declining in fall. In places where the winters are mild, these grasses keep growing throughout the winter months.
It is worth mentioning here that the tendency of seasonal growth of the grasses is habitually associated with the climatic condition where they have their origin. For example, grass species that are indigenous to regions having arid summer conditions, generally turn out to be inactive when the weather is hot and continues active growth when the temperatures begin to fall and with the onset of rainfall. On the other hand, grass species that have their origin in regions having cold winters, usually become dormant during the fall. These grasses resume their active growth when the temperatures begin to rise during spring.
Such recurring prototypes may also change, conditional on the diverse climates as well as situations. When the conditions are normal, the cool season ornamental grass will lie dormant during the summer - which is considered to be an intrinsic protection in the face of drought. However, if you keep on watering the plants on a regular basis, it is possible that some of them will sustain their growth even in such conditions.
- Warm season grasses
- The ideal temperature for the best growth of ornamental grasses classified as warm season grasses ranges from 80°F and 95°F. Their growth is most robust between the period spring and summer, subsequently the blossom and eventually become lie dormant. Similar to the leaves on shrubs and trees, the color of majority species of the warm season grasses changes during autumn. In effect, you can find all the colors of fall that you can possibly envisage in these grasses then. However, their color changes with the impending winter and eventually become totally inactive. All the growths from the previous season, including the flowers, leaves and stems, dry out and grow pale to have a tan, white or wheat hue. Even these blanched hues possess their individual delicate attractiveness as well as function in the landscaped garden. In fact, several species of warm season grasses are helpful in drawing the wildlife to a garden during the winter months.
During winter, the inactive warm season grass foliage generally perseveres all through the cold months. Habitually, the dormant foliage of the warm season grass drops to the ground during the winter owing to the combined efforts of the snow, rain and wind. However, there are a few warm season grass species that have the aptitude to even remain standing braving the harsh winter months.
When the temperature begins to rise with the onset of spring, warm season grass species resume their growth. During this period, the plants produce new shoots from their base and the sequence continues. In fact, the re-emergence of the warm season grasses is a sign of the onset of spring.
- Cool season grasses
- The ideal temperature for the optimum growth of the species of cool season ornamental grass is between 60°F and 75°F. The growth of the grasses under this category starts in fall and they are among the perennially growing plants that are blossom quite early in the garden. Some of the species also bear flowers during the winter. Compared to the warm season species, most of the cool season grasses have a preference for moisture. Generally, their leaves are perennial (evergreen) and they may have vivid red, purple, plum, brown or yellow hues during the winter months. However, as the temperature begins to rise with the onset of the spring, many of these winter hues fade away and in a while the spring growth leaves behind their foliage from the previous season.
There are basically two different forms of growth patterns that distinguish the grasses. While the running grasses multiply by means of their crawling stems, thereby forming thick mats, many of this species may also turn out to be invasive. An example of the second type of growth is the clumping grasses that develop in bunch, gradually enhancing in width. Both these types have equal status and presence in the gardens.
- Running grasses
- Running grasses is the first type of grass growth. This type of grasses is also known as creeping or spreading grasses. Running grasses multiply through their stem that run on the surface of the ground and are known as stolons, while underground stems are known as rhizomes. The form of the stems may be dissimilar - ranging from subtle and hair-like to chunky and firm. In the instance of running grasses spreading by means of rhizomes, the grasses are also known as rhizomatous grasses. When the grasses are allowed to grow under perfect conditions, it may be necessary to get rid of the established grass rhizomes, such as the prairie cord grass (botanical name, Spartina pectinata), using a backhoe.
Several species of running grasses may also prove to be invasive. Grasses that spread through their stolons the length of stems as they cultivate, taking the appearance of a thick lawn. These types of grasses are generally used to prepare lawns. Ornamental or showy grasses, for instance the multicoloured St. Augustine grass (botanical name Stenotaphrum secondatum 'Variegatum') as well as the buffalo grass (botanical name Buchloe dactyloides) that grow by means of stolons, are able to take possession of vast areas.
- Clumping grasses
- An example of the second type of grass growth is the clumping grasses that cultivate in a bunch and, hence, they are also often known as bunch grasses, particularly by farmers as well as range management experts in the West. It may be noted that the clumping grasses are vital rummaging grasses. It is worth mentioning here that the clumping type of grasses differs and may range from small subtle mounds of bearskin fescue (botanical name, Festuca scoparia) about two inches in height to enormous plants, such as the pampas grass (botanical name Cortaderia selloana). A number of clumping or bunch grasses or sedges like Berkeley sedge (botanical name Carex tumuicola) may have the appearance of a sod or bunch provided they are grown sufficiently close to grow collectively.
The structure of grasses varies, and they are found in various different forms and dimensions. Basically, there are six main types that are used to describe the forms of grasses. These classifications illustrate the shape of the foliage and do not apply to the inflorescences or the flowering stems irrespective of the tallness of the plant. The different categories of grass form are described in brief below.
- The tufted form of grasses generally has prickly foliage or may have a delicate texture with straight leaves emerging from a clump at the base. Blue fescue (botanical name, Festuca cinerea) is an ideal example of this type of ornamental grass.
- This form of ornamental grass has a somewhat blighted, heaping foliage. Growth at the top of the grass completely envelopes the leaves lower down. Black-flowering pennisetum (botanical name Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Moudry') is a perfect example of the mounded form of grass.
- As the name suggests, this grass form is vertical. Precisely speaking, the foliage of this category of grass grows perpendicularly in a consistent or also a pillar-like appearance. Cattail (botanical name Typha latifolia) is an example of this form of ornamental grass.
- Upright divergent
- The foliage of this form of ornamental grass develops perpendicularly in an awkwardly climbing fashion. Blue oat grass (botanical name Helictotrichon sempervirens) is an ideal instance of this form of grass.
- Upright arching
- The foliage of this form of ornamental grass goes vertically up and after that turns into something like a fountain at the pinnacle. A perfect example of this form of ornamental grass is the silver feather maiden grass (botanical name Miscanthus sinensis 'Silberfeder').
- The foliage of the arching form category of ornamental grass forms an arch upwards and outwardly, in a rather identical proportion. An ideal example of this form of ornamental grass is palm grass (botanical name Setaria palmifolia).
- Ornamental grasses
The families of grasses
The life of grasses
Growing ornamental grasses
Growing grasses in containers
Propagating ornamental grasses
Maintaining ornamental grasses
Grasses' pests and diseases