Grass always appears greener on the other side, probably because we never care to look at it. Though grass varieties such as rice, wheat, sorghum, maize, oats, barley and millets give us food, and those such as bamboo are useful economically, there is something called grass of ornamental value. They bring perennially striking form, colour, texture, motion, and sound to the garden. The term “ornamental grass” refers to true grasses (which belong to the family Poaceae), as well as other plants that have a grass-like appearance such as sedges (Cyperaceae) and rushes (Juncaceae). Characteristics
Most of them are fast growing perennials. Their height varies from a few centimetres to several meters. They generally have underground rhizomes (a type of stem). They vary in form, size, colour and time of bloom providing an array of choices. Leaves are flat and narrow and are held to the slender stems (culms). Colour of foliage includes shades of green, yellow, blue, red, brown, and variegated. Individual flowers are clustered together in a colourful inflorescence.
Most of them grow in open areas, exposed to the sun. They are known to thrive even in soils low in fertility with conditions less than ideal for other garden plants. Some grow best in moist, well-drained soil while many can adapt to clay, rocky and dry areas. A few will even grow in standing water.
With their versatility, ornamental grass is a good alternative for those looking for variety.
They can be used as hedge plants, topiaries, ground-covers, specimen plants, and screens, for water-gardens or rock-gardens, or as container growth. The cut stems with long inflorescences are used in indoor decoration. They can also be used for stabilisation of slopes and to arrest soil erosion.
Ornamental grasses add three effects to the garden experience that are not obtained from other plants - movement (foliage and inflorescences flutter with the slightest breeze), sound (rustling noise of leaves) and shimmering light effects (especially when backlit).
Mass planting produces a colourful display with fine foliage and showy blooms. They look appealing against a dark background and can bask in morning or evening sunlight.
Ornamental grasses can stand up to extremes of drought and excessive rain and are relatively pest and disease free. With proper care, they can remain undisturbed in the landscape for long periods of time.
Grasses generally grow best in five to six hours of direct sun each day. Most grasses can benefit from mulching and from cutting back, usually just before new growth begins in spring.
Plants should be well-watered in the first season for good root establishment and minimised thereafter. Amount of water will depend on the grass species, the site and the season. They do not require much feeding, and overfeeding may discourage foliage at the expense of blooms. One application of a balanced fertilizer in spring is adequate.
Some ornamental grasses can be grown from seed. Many others are cultivars, and must be propagated through division of rhizomes or planting stem cuttings.
(The author is a forest officer and can be contacted at ‘nchandramohan email@example.com’)n.chandramohan reddy