Grasses gone wild: GOOPs (gardening oops) October

The first of October brings my monthly post on gardening faux pas, or blunders, or oops – I’ll call them gardening oops or GOOPs for short. I’ve gardened a long time and have taken many missteps along the way. On the first of each month I share one of my GOOPs with the hope that others might learn from, rather than copy, my missteps. If you are so inclined to join this GOOPs meme, simply share your GOOPs in a comment below or leave a link below to the GOOPs you’ve posted on your blog.

This month I discuss the widely planted ornamental grass, miscanthus sinensis.

I don’t recall when I first planted ornamental grasses but it’s been long enough so I have ample experience planting, pruning, thinning, and transplanting multiple varieties. Like many gardeners, I fell in love with the height and gently swaying movement of miscanthus. I purchased different types – Arabesque, Gracillimus, and Strictus, for example – for different locations. Below is just one of my miscanthus plantings.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I won’t say I’ve been unhappy with the effects. They do a bang up job at making a see-through fence private and, once winter comes their tan-ish fronds continue to offer visual interest – their winter color plays beautifully off the coppery beech leaves held by the many beech trees in my landscape. The grasses don’t look too bad from the back-side either, particularly when dressed up by clematis paniculata (Sweet Autumn clematis), or earlier in the growing season with phlox, oriental lilies, and cosmos.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

But over the last few years I’ve developed some nagging doubts regarding the environmental wisdom of using too many miscanthus sinensis. Why when these plants are relatively disease free, grow well without underground runners, are not deer candy, offer months and months of visual interest, only need pruning in late winter, and shine spectacularly when the sun filters through the leaves? Unfortunately many lady miscanthus sinensis volunteers have popped up in unwanted and unintended locations. Volunteers are not allowed continued growth – I have no way of knowing just how free-seeding the second generation might be. But I worry that less vigilant or less informed gardeners might not be so willing to check for and destroy volunteer miscanthus sinensis from their landscapes. Because of this, lady miscanthus may become less than lady-like and drop her progeny where ever it falls. This could become a serious, wide-spread gardener-caused GOOPs.

Have any of you had a similar experience with miscanthus sinensis? Have you checked to see if she’s dropped her babies off in unwanted places?

I now plant other types of ornamental grasses – pennisetum (fountaingrass), panicum (switchgrass), helictotrichon sempervirens (Blue Oat grass), festuca glauca (Blue fescue) though these too self-seed, hakonechloa macra (Hakone grass), and different varieties of carex. I’ve not removed my miscanthus, but I keep a close watch for her progeny. And to prevent self-sowing my autumn chores now include lopping off the lady’s seed heads while leaving her non-seed producing fronds to sway freely till flattened by winter snows or snipped off in early spring.

For more information see Ornamental Grasses for Cold Climates. I have this in booklet form, but much of this info is available online (first link).

Now it’s your turn.  Do you have a GOOPs to share?

3 comments for “Grasses gone wild: GOOPs (gardening oops) October

  1. October 1, 2010 at 8:24 am

    Joene, I know some Miscanthus sinensis is considered potentially invasive here in CT but I’ve never seen any volunteers here. I grow ‘Morning Light’, ‘Silberfeider’, ‘Strictus’ and ‘Zebrinus’ and have never seen any babies. It’s interesting that you’re seeing some up by you, I would have thought the fact that you’re slightly colder would mean the opposite. Oh well, live and learn…

  2. joenesgarden
    October 2, 2010 at 9:49 am

    Debbie, I’ve found volunteer miscanthus behind outbuildings, in adjacent beds, and in areas infrequently mowed … sure signs of invasiveness. I strongly urge gardeners with miscanthus plantings to check such areas and other ‘wild’ spots for volunteers.

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