Ornamental Feather Reed Grass is October 2018 Plant of the Month

Plant of the month series October 2018 for Louisville Colorado landscapes

OCTOBER: Ornamental Feather Reed Grasses

You see them everywhere as ‘Karl Foerster’ feather reed grass in medians, malls, public buildings and residences, but there are several other variegated varieties as well that may make more sense in your landscape. Known as Calamagrostis acutifolia, and Calamagrostis brachytricha or Korean Feather Reed Grass, they are one of the most popular ornamental grasses used. They are simple, easy to maintain, easily dividable, and offer multi-seasonal interest when the plumes are left standing in dormant state for the winter months.

Discovered in the 1930’s by famed German plantsman Karl Foerster (1874-1970), it was not introduced into the United States until 1964. It is a long lasting cool season grass that thrives in spring and early summer, so it sends its plumes up early in the summer to last the whole season. It will fade a bit in late summer due to heat, but can maintain a green color if not over exposed to sun and heat. ‘Overdam’ (smaller) and ‘Avalanche’ (larger) are two of the variegated varieties often planted here in Louisville, CO landscapes. Foerster was such a well-known and respected horticulturist that a perennial garden bearing his name Foerster Stauden Perennial Garden was given a landmark status in Potsdam, Germany.

The Korean Feather reed grass is one of the few grasses that can tolerate some moderate shade. It forms lovely clumps of green foliage, which are graced with airy pink-tinged flowers. Under preferred conditions, these blooms are numerous and highly ornamental. Blooms arrive mid-late summer and persist into fall because Korean Feather reed grass is a warm season grass, unlike the Karl Foerster grasses.

No landscape is complete without the right mixture of ornamental grasses. Consider Karl Foerster as a staple, but sparingly. Variegated varieties and the Korean grass offer differing interest, and can be used with other larger grasses in the same perennial beds. They are great for lining driveways where shoveled winter snows do not wreak havoc on the plants. All ornamental grasses should be pruned to the ground (4-6”) around March 1st, before they begin to put out new spring growth. This makes them ideal for areas where snow gets piled deep from shoveling. Plant several in your landscape this fall still!


Photos by Keith Williamson of Little Valley Wholesale Nursery.

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