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If you want to go beyond a uniform green lawn and add some pizzazz to your yard, check out ornamental grasses, the eye-catching, more natural-looking cousins of turf grass. Ornamental grasses come in shades of blue, red and green, and they range in height from less than 12 inches to more than 10 feet. They're nearly insect- and disease-free, and they tolerate a wide range of soil and temperature conditions. To top it off, they need little care to look great — no weekly mowing here. In addition, ornamental grasses do more than just lie there waiting for a croquet game to start. Use them to fill in a flower bed or screen an ugly view. You can even make them the focal point of your yard. This versatility is a key reason that ornamental grasses are booming in popularity. Making Choices

Selecting an ornamental grass for your yard might be the toughest part of the whole process. The plants that we show here represent only a small number of the grasses and grasslike plants readily available throughout the country. Talk with your local extension service and nursery staff for guidance. Another good resource is The Color Encyclopedia of Ornamental Grasses, an up-to-date, authoritative reference by Rick Darke. Like any plant, the ornamental grasses you select must be suited to your climate and growing conditions. Familiarize yourself with the growth cycle of the plants so that you can coordinate them with neighboring plants. Most ornamental grasses are warm-season types, which flourish in summer heat, flower in summer and fall, and begin to go dormant with winter. Many offer outstanding fall color in the North, and their winter hues of chestnut, tan and russet remain handsome throughout the cold months. Cool-season types grow in the cool, moist weather of spring (or winter in mild-winter climates). They flower from late winter to early summer, and then grow very slowly, if at all, in summer. Their growth resumes once fall arrives. These grasses offer early-spring appeal and, in mild climates, their foliage is evergreen over the winter season. Blue oat grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens) and feather reed grass (Calamagrostis acutiflora stricta) are examples of very useful cool-season grasses.
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