Saturday, August 27, 2011

Growing Grasses in Calgary, AB - Part 1

Calgary's Gardeners Deal With a Very Challenging Climate
Fortunately there is an ample selection of grasses for the challenging conditions in the Calgary area, as proven both by controlled hardiness trials at various universities and by the more prosaic trial-and-error methods used by nursery growers and home landscapers.

Below are descriptions of six of the best grasses for the Calgary area. A list of specific grasses will follow in a separate post.

Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ (Feather reed grass): This hardy, narrow and tall (up to 2 M), cool-season grass grows to its fullest potential in open, sunny areas with extra water during dry spells. However, it is very adaptable and can also be grown in partial shade in a variety of soil types and moisture levels. A single ‘Karl Foerster’ plant makes a striking specimen, but they can also be used to more dramatic effect in greater numbers. A swath of them planted along a border becomes a kinetic weathervane as their upright flowers dance in a breeze.
Follow this link to view further info about "Calamagrostis Karl Foerster" on our website.

Deschampsia cespitosa (Tufted hair grass): In terms of growing conditions, the many forms of Tufted hair grass are similar to ‘Karl Foerster,’ and the two grasses are often planted together. Boasting names such as ‘Bronze Veil,’ ‘Gold Veil,’ and the smaller ‘Gold Dew,’ they reveal Deschampsia’s versatility and charm. Like ‘Karl Foerster’ they start blooming in late June and their flowers persist into winter. Their blooms are large but are so finely textured that they resemble a sublime haze of gold floating above foliage. Both ‘Karl Foerster’ and the green-leaved varieties of Tufted hair grass are great choices that can hold their own against Calgary’s winters.
Follow this link to view further info about Deschampsia on our website.

Carex muskingumensis (Palm sedge) and Luzula sylvatica (Greater wood rush): Even though much of Calgary is dry and sunny, many shady areas occur around buildings and taller vegetation. These niches that have lower light levels are appropriate places to plant Palm sedge and Wood rush. Neither plant is a true grass, but both are good choices for handsome, winter hardy plantings.
Palm sedge (up to 1 M tall) is adaptable, but in natural conditions it favors moist (even wet) areas when it is growing in full sun; in shadier locations it tolerates drier conditions. It is often used in landscaping to display its palm-like foliage which nicely complements perennials with large leaves such as Hosta.
Wood rush is a slow-to-establish small plant that is useful for lightly to moderately shaded areas. Although some protection from winter winds is helpful for reducing dieback of the tips, it is somewhat amazing that Greater wood rush maintains its green color year-round. Also, once it settles in and its roots spread, wood rush is a very tough plant for shade. Its fibrous root system allows it to become a weed-proof groundcover that can handle a fair amount of drought (larger plants are produced if the soil around them isn’t allowed to dry out).
Follow this link to view further info about Luzula sylvatica on our website.

Schizachyrium scoparium (Little bluestem): Native to mixed grass prairie habitat, Little bluestem (50-100 cm tall) is an excellent choice for just about any sunny garden in Calgary. Its fountain of narrow leaves is appealing year-round. The most commonly grown variety – both for hardiness and ornamental qualities – is ‘Blaze,’ whose name conjures an image that captures its fall colour. For a combination that will produce decades of enjoyment, plant large drifts of Little bluestem around groupings of Pinus flexilis (Limber Pine), which grows wild in this region.

Miscanthus sinensis (Chinese silver grass and various other names): If you took a survey of what ornamental grass first captured the public’s attention, the majority would probably say Miscanthus – this wouldn’t be surprising, given Miscanthus’s stunning visual presence and its physical stature, which is closer to shrubs than perennials. Its various cultivars and species come in a range of sizes but they tend to be medium to large. To grow the best specimens it is important to consider micro-climates: The ideal position is a sheltered area that receives at least six hours of summer sun; a good location would be near a southwest-facing wall that reflects extra sunlight in summer and retains some radiant heat in winter. All of the many varieties of this grass are quite attractive, but Miscanthus sinensis var. purpurascens merits special mention: It is winter hardy, its reddish-green foliage and fall color are alluring, and its smaller size allows it to be mixed in with other perennials without overwhelming them.