Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Amaryllis: A Flower Born of Heart's Blood

Certainly, one of the most dramatic flowers you can grow indoors this winter is an Amaryllis. 

Last week three cherry-red trumpets opened on the Amaryllis in my kitchen. Each flower must be at least three or four inches across. Then, this morning, I was excited to see that there is going to be an encore performance with three more blooms on a second stem. Such a glorious display with so little effort on my part!

The name "Amaryllis" finds origins in a Greek tale of love and sacrifice. While walking on a mountainside, a young maiden named Amaryllis happens upon Alteo, a handsome shepherd. For Amaryllis, it was love at first sight, but in Alteo's heart, there was only a passion for flowers. For Alteo love needed to be truly magical, so he rebuffs Amaryllis, telling her he could only love a maiden who could bring him a flower that the world has never seen before.

Determined to win Alteo's love, Amaryllis travels to the Oracle of Delphi for guidance. The Oracle advises she must find a way to create the flower Alteo seeks from her heart's own blood. On this advice, Amaryllis appears at Alteo's door for twenty-nine nights, each time piercing her heart with a golden arrow. Finally, on the thirtieth night, Alteo opens his door to find Amaryllis holding a crimson flower that has sprung up from the drops of blood spilling from her heart. He kisses her. At last the beautiful Amaryllis has won Alteo's love!

Today no blood needs to be spilt to enjoy an Amaryllis. Growing this magnificent flower is easy. 

Planting an Amaryllis

Amaryllis is a bulbous plant that produces tall stems which bear clusters of two to as many as twelve flowers.

Amaryllis bulbs prefer to be somewhat snug and even a little pot-bound in a container, so choose your plant pot accordingly. Unlike bulbs like daffodils and tulips, you don't bury an Amaryllis bulb. Instead, plant the bulb up to the base of its neck in good potting soil. You can expect an Amaryllis to flower about 6-8 weeks after it has been planted.

Heat is essential for the development of the flower stems, so place your freshly potted Amaryllis in a warm spot (68-70 degrees F) with direct light. Water it sparingly until the first flower stem appears. When the leaves and flower buds appear, water the pot regularly. The flower will open when the stem has reached its full height.

Once the first of the flowers have opened, you may find that the top-heavy Amaryllis needs a bit of support. I used a simple bit of twine and a branch of dogwood as support. A bamboo cane would work nicely too. Just remember to be careful when pushing your support into the soil. You don't want to damage the bulb.

A cool, shaded room will prolong the life of each bloom.

After it Blooms

An Amaryllis can be kept from year to year with a little bit of effort.

Once your amaryllis has faded, cut the flower's stem back to the top of the bulb. Think of your Amaryllis as another houseplant. Water it regularly and allow the leaves to develop normally.

Once all danger of frost has passed, you can move the potted bulb outdoors. Don't transplant it into the garden. Just leave it in its pot (you can partially bury the pot if you choose).

Place the Amaryllis in a spot with light shade. Too much sun will do it no favours (I speak from experience here!). Continue to water and fertilize the bulb's leaves all summer. A good water-soluble fertilizer should produce nice, healthy growth. Good strong foliage will help the bulb store the energy needed for re-blooming.

Getting an Amaryllis to Re-bloom

In early fall, the foliage on an Amaryllis will begin to yellow and that is a sign that it is time to bring the bulb indoors. Cut the leaves to a height of about 2" above the bulb and remove the bulb from the soil.

Clean away any remaining soil and place the bulb in a cool dark place (a refrigerator or anywhere else that the temperature remains around 40-50 degrees F will do). Leave the bulb to rest for the next six to eight weeks. After a minimum of six weeks, you can re-pot your Amaryllis and begin the whole cycle again.

Possible Problems with Re-blooming

If an Amaryllis fails to produce blooms, it is a sign that the leaves did not store enough energy to produce a flower.

A lack of both flowers and foliage may be a sign that the bulb has rotted. Squeeze the potted bulb just below the surface of the soil. If it's soft, the bulb has rotted and will need to be discarded.

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Thursday, November 24, 2016

How to make a Winter Hanging Basket

There was a time, when I took down the hanging baskets, that are filled with flowers in the summer, and stored them away for the winter months. Then it struck me that I was missing out on a huge opportunity. Winter is a long season here in Canada (or at least it feels that way). Why not use those same hanging baskets to put some color back into those drab, cold months?

So as well as the metal urns and window boxes, I started to fill my hanging baskets with greenery and berries. 

Winter Greenery For Holiday Arrangements PIN

Altogether I have quite a few containers of one type or another to fill, so I try to forage as much as possible from the yard and the adjacent woodlot. I harvest responsibly, pruning branches carefully so that I never damage the trees or shrubs I am cutting.

In the shady part of the garden, I am lucky to have quite a number of yews. Every fall they get a good haircut which leaves me with quite a bit of raw material for my winter arrangements. But even with the yew, I don't have quite enough evergreen boughs to fill all my containers, so I also buy mixed bunches of pine, fir, boxwood, Oregonia and cedar at the grocery store. 

Once upon a time, Magnolia leaves were one of the pricy winter container options, but for the last few years, Walmart has had them available for a very reasonable cost. So I buy a few magnolia branches as well. Magnolia leaves have those soft, suede-like undersides that warm up all the other greens.

Natural Fruit & Berries for Holiday Arrangements PIN

Though it tempting at this time of year to add holiday bows and baubles, I resist the urge. The ground will be frozen in January, making it really hard to remove seasonal flourishes later on. Holiday decorations become cringe-worthy in February and March! 

Though I try to avoid a holiday look, I do add some fruit and berries to my baskets for a little color. In the garden, I forage rose hips, crabapples and euonymus berries. From the store, I purchase western red cedar, with its little brown rosettes, blue juniper berries and incense cedar, with its golden buds.

Here's how I put my hanging baskets together:

Step 1: The baskets that hang on our front porch are actual brown twig baskets. If you don't have a woven basket like this, a traditional plastic hanging basket would work just as well. 

Fill your hanging basket with potting soil (if you don't have a hanging basket that is already filled with soil). The only purpose of the soil is to secure your evergreens in the pot.

White Pine (left) and Cedar (right)

Step 2: As with any good containers planting, use "spillers, fillers and thrillers" to create a nice arrangement of greenery and berries. 

Begin with the "spillers" that will drape down over the edges of your basket. For this, I suggest long pieces of cedar and pine. Both evergreens have soft stems that allow them to hang down gracefully over the rim of the basket.

This is the basket after the white pine and cedar have been added.

Step 3: Next it's on to the "fillers" that will give the arrangement the fullness you want. 

For this, you can use almost any type of evergreen. I used pieces of boxwood, yew, spruce, noble fur, yew, Oregonia (the variegated leaf you see above) and magnolia leaves.

At the end of step 3, the basket has filled out nicely.

Step 4: The final step is to add some colorful accents with assorted fruit and berries.

If you don't have crabapples or rose hips, you can substitute them with red winter berries, which are readily available at a variety of stores and nurseries. If you can't find winter berries or they're too expensive, faux-berries would work just as nicely.

As well as the two hanging baskets on the front porch, I also fill the wire baskets in the back garden.

It looks so much nicer than leaving them empty all winter! 

A hanging basket like this goes together pretty quickly. It takes just 15-20 minutes to make something that will look great throughout the long months of cold and snow! 

Hanging Basket PIN

Friday, November 18, 2016

Nature Books for Gift Giving (Plus a Giveaway)

In this post, Jean Godawa has drawn up a great list of nature book recommendations 
for holiday gift giving.

As a student, I accumulated dozens of books about the natural world. Most have long outlived their usefulness and have been replaced by updated scientific discoveries and the collection of infinite knowledge available on the internet. There are, however, a few books with broken spines, muddy fingerprints and loose pages that are never far from reach at my desk. They continue to serve me twenty years later. Those are the books that I love. Those are the books that are worth the shelf space they occupy. I keep that in mind when looking for gifts for fellow nature lovers and try to select books that they too will find worthy of their own shelf space.

Wicked Plants, Wicked Bugs and The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart:
Did you know that cashews are from the same botanical family as poison ivy and poison oak? For people of any age who love macabre stories, bestselling author Amy Stewart has written some wonderful books on the intoxicating, destructive, dangerous or deadly properties of plants and insects. The books are well organized and easy to read, with plenty of useful information such as common names, habitats and origins. Her descriptions of historical encounters with some of nature's bizarre flora and fauna is both informative and entertaining. The author and illustrator recently released The Wicked Plants Coloring Book  with "40 botanical atrocities to color and keep"Any or all of these would make great gifts for nature lovers with just a hint of a dark side.

The Curious Nature Guide by Clare Walker Leslie:
We move throughout the day from one place to the next with little regard for the natural world we pass through. Clare Walker Leslie inspires us to follow that old adage of stopping to smell the roses but in a fresh way. This book encourages you to explore your neighbourhood or walk around outside and notice the various elements, from the clouds in the sky to the fungus on a tree trunk. Filled with information and simple activities such a making a spore print from mushroom caps or pressing autumn leaves, this guide would make an excellent gift for nature-loving families with curious children.

Gardening for Butterflies by the Xerces Society:
Stunning photography with detailed information on butterfly biology and behaviour is presented in this book in a very informative and easy to read manner. It suggests suitable plants for a variety of North American regions and provides an alphabetical listing of those plants along with wonderful reference pictures and ideal growing information. If you know someone who is planning or designing a new garden or is just looking for information about plants (including trees) that will attract butterflies to their garden, this book would be a welcome addition to their library.

Garden Flora by Noel Kingsbury:
Noel Kingsbury has written and excellent reference guide on the origins of garden plants. Laid out alphabetically, Garden Flora delves into the heritage of plants and describes, among many other things, how they were crossed with others to give us the plants we use in our gardens today. Visually, the book is gorgeous, with reproductions of historical illustrations, watercolours and paintings as well as contemporary photographs of plant species. This book is well suited to gardeners and botanists who wish to delve further into the history of their current garden flora.

Peterson First Guides by Roger Tory Peterson:
There are so many field guides to help identify the plants and animals around us that it is difficult to know which one to choose. My most well-used guides have always been by Peterson. Whether you want to identify the caterpillar you found on the sidewalk or the bird at your feeder, there is a Peterson guide to help you. The smaller First Guides are a great start for any age and there is one for birds, butterflies, caterpillars and insects.  Any of these field guides would make great stocking-stuffers for nature lovers. 

Bee Time by Mark L. Winston and H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald:
Both award winning books, Bee Time and H is for Hawk, are non-fiction accounts of the authors' personal relationships with nature. In Bee Time, Mark Winston describes his work in apiaries around the world and makes connections between his interactions with bees and with people. Helen Macdonald describes her immersion into the training of a goshawk while shutting out friends and family in order to deal with the death of her father. Both books are beautifully written. Upon finishing them, the reader is left not only with a great deal of knowledge about bees and hawks, but with a new understanding of human nature. If you know someone who is fascinated with nature and those that study it, both of these books would make excellent gifts.

A Child's Introduction to Natural History by Heather Alexander:
For readers aged 8 to 12, Heather Alexander provides a wealth of information about the natural world. The world's biomes are well described along with the living and non-living things contained within them. She introduces kids to the scientists and naturalists who have helped further our knowledge of the natural world. As an added bonus, the book includes patterns and paper for making origami animals.

A Wasp Builds a Nest by Kate Scarborough:
For younger readers, Kate Scarborough has written a book that can be read like a storybook but is full of accurate information on how wasps build their nest. Curious kids who wonder what it looks like inside a wasp nest will get a chance to see exactly what's happening in it at each stage of its development. The book is suitable for young nature lovers aged 5 to 8.

I could happily spend days in the library or bookstore leafing through books on plants or animals or the environment in general. The above are just a few suggestions that I think any nature lover would be pleased to receive. If you have read or used any of these books, I'd love to hear your feedback. Also, if you have any further recommendations for gift books, please do share them.

Blog post by Jean Godawa

About Jean GodawaJean is a science teacher and writer. She has been writing science-related articles for print and online publications for more than ten years. Jean holds a degree in biology and environmental science with a focus on entomology from the University of Toronto. She had conducted field research in the tropical rainforests of Asia and South America.

Thomas Allen & Sons has kindly given us a copy of the Garden Flora: The Natural and Cultural History of Plants in Your Garden to give away. Because we will have to send this book through the mail, we will have to limit entry in the draw to readers in Canada and the USA.

Please leave a comment below if you would like to be included in the book draw. The draw will remain open for the until December 1st

If you are not a blogger, you can enter to win by leaving a comment on the Three Dogs in a Garden Facebook page. You are also welcome to enter by sending Jennifer an email (

Please make sure there is a way for us to track down your email address should your name be drawn.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

So I bought a Christmas Cactus

Christmas Cactus seem to be a plant with a loyal following. I've never bought one, but devotees seem to covet their colorful winter blooms. Recalling this made me hesitate in front of a display of Christmas Cacti at the grocery store. I can see the attraction. 

November is such a grim month. Colorful autumn leaves have now fallen from the trees leaving bare, grey skeletons. It's dark when you get up in the morning and dark by the time you return home from work. Though this fall has been unseasonably warm, the nights are always damp and cold. Who wouldn't want a bit of cheering under these circumstances?

So I bought a Christmas Cactus.

There was just one minor problem. I know nothing about caring for a Christmas Cactus! While experience and instinct might easily have been my guides, I prefer to use my purchase as an opportunity to learn a little something new. 

Here's what I discovered:

Caring for a Christmas Cactus or a Thanksgiving Cactus

Update: Here in Canada our Thanksgiving holiday is in October. What is known as a"Thanksgiving" Cactus in the States is often sold here in Canada as a "Christmas" Cactus in the month of November. All this just goes to show you how problematic common names can be! The "Thanksgiving Cactus" (Schlumbergera truncate) has broad, flat leaves with serrations on the edges. What is known in the States as the "Christmas Cactus" (Schlumbergera bridgesii) has smoother edges. The care for both holiday cacti are basically the same.

The good news for someone with their first Christmas Cactus is that they are pretty easy going houseplants. They like a bright location, but not one with direct sunlight that might burn their foliage. 

A cool windowsill won't make them happy. Christmas Cactus like warm spot with temperatures that never fall below 60 degrees F (15-21degrees C).

A Christmas Cactus should be watered approximately once a week. The determining factor is soil that is dry to the touch. As with most houseplants, it's best to water thoroughly until the water trickles through the drainage hole.

One thing I learned from reading and then doing a review for The Indestructible Houseplant (by Tovah Martin) is that indoor plants experience seasonal changes just like outdoor plants. Low light and short days mean that indoor plants slow down their growth and don't need as much moisture or as many nutrients at this time of year. 

Not surprisingly then, Christmas Cactus grow most actively in the spring and summer. To give them a boost, start in late winter to fertilize a Christmas Cactus once a month. Then in spring, encourage strong, healthy growth by fertilizing every other week. 

To water all my houseplants I use a liquid feed that is commonly available in big box stores. I add a few drops (following the label instructions) to the old jug I use to water my plants.

If you want to do any pruning, there are a couple of options. You can prune a Christmas Cactus just after it flowers and also in early summer.

Possible Problems:

Leaf Drop

If your Christmas Cactus appears to be otherwise healthy, leaf drop may be a sign you are overwatering. Too much moisture may cause a cactus to rot and leaves to fall. Likewise too little water can also cause the same problem. Balance is what is needed. 
Solution: Adjust your watering regime to provide moisture only when the soil is dry to the touch. 

Poorly drained soil can also cause leaf drop. Like so many plants, Christmas Cactus hate sitting in wet, soggy soil. 
Solution: Repot your cactus with well-drained soil (like the kind I recommend below).

Temperature is another possible issue. Too much heat or cold temperatures can also cause leaf drop. 
Solution: Move your plant to a location that never falls below 60 degrees F (15-21degrees C).

Bud Drop:

Bud drop may be caused by something as simple as a change of environment. A plant that was grown in ideal greenhouse conditions may experience some shock, and resulting bud drop, as it tries to adapt to its new situation in a home environment. 
Solution: Mimic the cactus's ideal growing conditions as best you can. 

Dry indoor air is another issue for these plants. They aren't the type of cacti that come from an arid, dry dessert. Christmas Cactus hail from the tropical rainforests of South America where the air is warm and moist. 
Solution: Fill the plant's saucer with pebbles and some water that will evaporate and moisten the air.

Improper watering, temperature and light can also cause flower buds to drop (see leaf drop solutions for a course correction).

Insect Problems:

Combat mealybugs and scale insects with an insecticidal soap spray.

How to get a Christmas Cactus to Re-bloom

Getting a Christmas Cactus to bloom in time for the holiday season involves a little plant trickery. Begin by making adjustments in September (the whole process can take up to 8 weeks). 

Blooms are triggered by cool season conditions, so you need to simulate cooler days and shorter daylight hours by providing 12-14 hours of darkness. (Note: Indoor lighting may disrupt this period of darkness, so keep that in mind.) Choose a cool (50-55 degrees F.), dark place for the magic to happen. Reduce the frequency of your watering and don't use any fertilizer during this period.

For the remaining 10 hours each day, place your cactus in its usual spot (bright, indirect sunlight). Once the plant begins to flower, it can stay in its normal bright, warm spot in the house. 

When given a favourable location, and proper care, a Christmas Cactus may actually bloom at other points in a given year, but it's worth the extra effort to have flowers for the holidays. 

How to Propagate a Christmas Cactus

It's always great to know how to make new plants for free. Propagating a Christmas Cactus is so easy to do, it is worth a try. 

With a clean, sharp knife or pair of scissors, cut off one of the lobster claw-shaped leaf segments from a healthy branch of the foliage. 

Fill a small pot with Cactus soil, or if you can't find that, a sandy, free-draining soil.  

Moisten the soil in your pot.

I made a small divot with my finger and pressed each leaf segment into the moist soil. A little pinch of the soil on either side of the cutting holds it nicely upright.

Cover the pot with a clear plastic bag (I used a lunchtime sandwich bag). The plastic bag creates a little mini-greenhouse that will help keep the air and soil moist. Even though the plastic bag is pretty effective, you still need to water your cuttings if the soil gets dry. 

Place your baby Christmas Cacti somewhere bright, but out of direct sunlight. Bright sun will cook your cuttings! 

So what's your experience with Christmas Cacti? Please share!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Favourite Ornamental Grasses, Part 2: Cultivars Old & New

When I finally lost patience with an out-of-control Forsythia 'Northern Gold', I decided not to replace it with another shrub. Instead I opted for two ornamental grasses. 

This picture perfectly illustrates why the Switch Grass is my favourite of the two that I planted. When the sun works its way around to the side of the house, the Switch Grass emerges magnificently from the shadows of an early fall morning. The large green clump has a golden crown of tiny buds, that when lit by the sun, become hundreds of sparks of light.

I must be a gardener deep down because, I always find the sight a little bit thrilling.

Switch Grass, Panicum virgatum 'Shenandoah' 

I like this grass so much that I am adding a new variety of Switch Grass this fall. When I took this picture it was still in its nursery pot waiting patiently for me to plant it (40% off clearance item), so I only have a close-up. This new Switch Grass is a bit more compact than the first one I mentioned. It only reaches a height of 3-4 feet and a width of 2-3 feet.

I love the streaks of maroon that mark the foliage and the tiny reddish-brown flowers. In a breeze, the grass swishes and sways in a way that is as elegant as it is graceful.

Red Switch Grass, Panicum virgatum 'Shenandoah' forms an upright clump and has foliage streaked with maroon. Tiny reddish flowers appear in August and are attractive all winter. Trim back to 4 or 5 inches above the ground in spring. Full sun. Non-invasive, clump forming grass. Height: 80-90 cm (31-35 inches), Spread: 75-90 cm (29-35 inches) USDA Zones: 4-9.

There are quite a few cultivars of Miscanthus grass you can choose from. Shape, size, foliage and plume color will all help you make your choice.

I am just beginning to collect them and only have two established clumps along with a few recent additions.

At the front of the house, keeping the Switch Grass company, is a cultivar with beige plumes.

Miscanthus sinensis 'Nippon' is a dwarf form that is perfect for the smaller garden. Though its foliage arches nicely, this cultivar is a more compact and upright plant than many other cultivars of Miscanthus. It has reddish plumes that quickly fade to beige. Full sun. Non-invasive, clump forming grass. Height: 120-150 cm (59- 80 inches), Spread: 60-90 cm (24-35 inches). USDA Zones: 5-9.

A quick note about wether Miscanthus Grasses are invasive: 
Many of the new cultivars are supposedly sterile. A trial conducted at the Chicago Botanic Garden in 2010 found that some cultivars still had viable seeds. Less fertile cultivars were found to be the late flowering varieties. Fine Gardening Magazine has a handy chart comparing the trial results (the number of viable seeds) for common Miscanthus cultivars.

In the backyard is my favourite Miscanthus thus far:

Miscanthus sinensis 'Gracillimus' is one of the most popular cultivars of Miscanthus. Although this grass's mounding shape makes it look quite soft and feathery, I find that the long, narrow green foliage has quite a sharp edge. Maroon plumes that appear in late fall fade to a metallic coppery glow (mid-October in my garden). The foliage becomes beige and looks attractive throughout the winter. Trim it to 6" above the ground in early spring. Also divide older clumps to reinvigorate them in the spring. Height: 120-150 cm (59- 80 inches), Spread: 80-90 cm (31-35 inches). USDA Zones: 5-9.

A large Miscanthus dominates the background in this late summer photo 
of Edwards Gardens in Toronto

Just a quick reminder that most Miscanthus grasses are large. Think mid-sized shrub when you place them in your garden.

Lost Horizons Nursery Display Garden

Any Miscanthus grasses will have presence in the garden, but you can certainly up the wow-factor by choosing one of the many cultivars with interesting variegation. 

Here are a few choices of Miscanthus banded with creamy-yellow. I'll highlight a few key differences after the listings.

Miscanthus sinensis 'Little Zebra' is a dwarf variety that is perfect for smaller gardens. It has the same green foliage banded with creamy-yellow as 'Zebranus' on a more compact plant. Plumes are reddish-pink. Clump forming grass. Full sun. Height: 90-120 cm (35-47 inches), Spread: 75-90 cm (29-35 inches) USDA Zones: 5-9. 

Zebra Grass, Miscanthus sinensis 'Zebrinus' has green foliage banded with creamy-yellow. In winter the foliage fades into tawny-beige. This variety has large coppery plumes. Has more viable seeds than 'Little Zebra' and 'Gold Bar'. Clump forming grass. Full sun. Height: 180-240 cm (70- 94 inches), Spread: 80-90 cm (31-35 inches) USDA Zones: 5-9. 

Dwarf Porcupine Grass, Miscanthus sinensis 'Gold Bar' is again another dwarf variety. It forms an upright clump of green leaves banded with yellow. This Miscanthus has burgundy plumes in fall. 
Clump forming grass. Full sun. Height: 120-150 cm (47-59 inches), Spread: 75-90 cm (29-35 inches) USDA Zones: 5-9. 

Their differences may help you to choose:
Porcupine Grass and Zebra Grass look very similar, but there are differences. Porcupine Grass tends to be a bit more shade tolerant than Zebra Grass (though both prefer sun). Porcupine Grass is stiffer and forms more of an upright clump, while Zebra Grass flares a little from the base of the clump. Zebra Grass is more flexible in a breeze, but this also means that strong winds or rain can cause Zebra Grass to flop a little. One last difference: Zebra Grass prefers drier conditions, Porcupine Grass is happy in more moist conditions.

Chen's garden near Milton, Ontario. See more of Chen's garden here, here and here.

There are also a number of cultivars with striped variegation. Here are a few:

Miscanthus sinensis 'Dixieland' is a mid-sized variety with green foliage striped with cream. Pinkish plumes become silvery as they age. Full sun. Height: 120-150 cm (47-59 inches), Spread: 80-90 cm (31-35 inches) USDA Zones: 5-9.

Misanthus sinensis condensatus 'Cosmopolitan' (also known as Japanese Silver Grass) has wide green leaves edged in cream. Its plumes are coppery-pink. Full sun. Height: 180-300 cm (47-59 inches), Spread: 80-90 cm (31-35 inches) USDA Zones: 6-9.

Miscanthus sinensis 'Variegatus' forms an arching mound of foliage with subtle green and white striping. It has deep rose flower plumes. Height:150- 210 cm (59-82 inches), Spread: 80-90 cm (31-35 inches) USDA Zones: 5-9.

Fountain Grass in my garden.

I haven't had the best luck with Fountain Grass. It is supposedly hardy to zone 5, but I've lost it both years I've planted it. It's a great ornamental grass though, so don't let my experience discourage you. I'm going to try it again in a new location.

Hardy Fountain Grass, Pennistum alopecuroides forms a low mound of arching green foliage that turns bright gold in fall. Its bottlebrush plumes emerge soft mauve and fade to tan as they dry. Full sun. Though this is a clump forming grass, Pennistum alopecuroides will do some self-seeding. Height: 90-120 cm (35-47 inches), Spread: 60-90 cm (23-35 inches) USDA Zones: 5-9.

As well as the perennial options, there are a number of new annual introductions to watch for (hardy only in zones 9 to 11). These annual Fountain Grasses look so wonderful it is worth considering them next spring when you come up with your wish list of annuals.

Pennisetum 'Skyrocket' is a tender perennial (annual in most zones) that forms a low mound of green foliage edged with cream. Skyrocket has sterile plumes that are cream tinged with mauve. Full sun. Height: 24-30 inches, Spread: 16-20 inches. Hardy in USDA zones 9-10 only.

Feather Reed Grass in the Music Garden in Toronto.

In the city where I live, Feather Reed Grass is so overused commercial plantings, it is hard to think of it as interesting or desirable enough to be included in a good public or private garden. It's a popular choice for a good reason: Feather Reed Grass is attractive and very dependable even in the face of neglect. For that reason, I find it hard to hold Feather Reed Grass's popularity against it. 

Feather Reed Grass, Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster' is an upright grass with green plumes that mature into wheat-like spikes. This cultivar was the Perennial Plant of the Year in 2001. It has a non-invasive, clump forming habit and is adaptive to a range of soils and moisture conditions. Full sun. Height: 90-120 cm (35-47 inches), Spread: 60-75 cm (23-29 inches) USDA Zones: 4-9. 

Feather Reed grass, Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Avalanche'

If you want to take the use of this particular type of ornamental grass up a notch, try one of the new cultivars that has a bit of variegation in its foliage. Here are three possible options:

Feather Reed Grass, Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Avalanche' has narrow green foliage that is striped with white down the centre. Feathery greenish-mauve plumes in summer turn into wheat-colored spikes in fall. Non-invasive habit. Full sun. Height: 90-120 cm (35-47 inches), Spread: 60-75 cm (23-29 inches) USDA Zones: 4-9. 

Feather Reed Grass, Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Elorado' is very similar to 'Avalanche' but is a little taller. Non-invasive habit. Full sun. Height: 120-150 cm (47-59 inches), Spread: 60-75 cm (23-29 inches) USDA Zones: 4-9. 

Feather Reed Grass, Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Overdam' again has quite similar variegated foliage with plumes that age to a creamy-white. It is not as showy or as vigorous as 'Avalanche'. Non-invasive habit. Full sun. Height: 90-120 cm (35-47 inches), Spread: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches) USDA Zones: 5-9.

One more member of the Calamagrostis family of grasses:

Korean Feather Reed Grass, Calamagrostis brachytricha forms a narrow, upright clump that has silver and pink plumes that fade to cream as they age. Non-invasive habit. Full sun, but will tolerate a bit of shade. Average to moist soil conditions. Non-invasive, clump forming grass. Height: 90-120 cm (35-47 inches), Spread: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches) USDA Zones: 4-9.

Ornamental Grasses and Grass-like plants for Shade

Most ornamental grasses require full sun to thrive, but there are grass options for part-shade and shade. Japanese Forest Grass, Hakonechloa likes moist (emphasis on moist!) part-shade. 

Japanese Forest Grass, Hakonechloa at Edwards Garden in Toronto

Japanese Forest Grass, Hakonechloa in a private garden in Mississauga, Ontario.

There are a number of cultivars of Japanese Forest Grass available for shade. Here are two:

Hakonechloa macro 'Aureola' forms a low mound of arching buttery-yellow and green foliage. I have discovered it is quite slow to grow and does not do well in dry or drought conditions. Part to full shade. Clump forming grass. Height: 30-65 cm (12-25 inches), Spread: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches). USDA Zones: 5-9.

Hakonechloa macro 'All Gold' forms a low mound of arching golden-yellow foliage. Tiny insignificant green flowers. Morning sun and afternoon shade for best color. Clump forming grass. Height: 15-20 cm (6-8 inches), Spread: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches). USDA Zones: 5-9.

An unidentified Sedge figures in the foreground of this shade and part-shade section of a private garden near Uxbridge, Ontario.

Another grass-like perennial that likes shady conditions is Sedge, Carex. It's a great plant to mix with hosta for textural interest.

Here there are two grass-like Sedges tucked under the small maroon tree. I have posted about Jamie's shady woodland garden here, and in the coming months, I will be doing a new post of the same garden in summer.

Variegated Japanese Sedge, Carex morrowii, Laiche japonaise 'Ice Dance' is a grass-like perennial that forms a low mound of tufted green leaves edged in white. It likes moist, rich soil, but most of the Sedges in my garden seem to do fine in somewhat drier conditions. It's evergreen in habit. Height: 20-30 cm (8-12 inches), Spread: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches). USDA Zones: 5-9.

Gold Fountain Sedge, carex dolichostachya 'Gold Fountains' forms a fountain-like mound of green leaves edged with yellow. The foliage turns brown in winter. Clump forming grass. Part to full shade. Height: 25-30 cm (10-12 inches), Spread: 45-50 cm (18-20 inches). USDA zones: 5-9.

The third post in this series will cover care basics for ornamental grasses 
and will suggest some companion plants.