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Ornamental grass named top perennial plant in 2001
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
An outstanding feather reed grass variety named Karl Foerster is the Perennial Plant of the Year, according to the Perennial Plant Association.
This Perennial Plant of the Year will work well in Mississippi, too. As a highly acclaimed cultivar, Karl Foerster is one of the most versatile, attractive and low maintenance ornamental grasses around. The deep green, shiny foliage appears in early spring and lasts until early winter.
Loose, feathery flowers appear in June and are initially light pink. As the seed heads mature, they become very narrow with a golden tan color that lasts through the fall season.
The growth habit of Karl Foerster is vertical with a tuft of foliage 2 to 3 feet tall and flower stems up to 5 feet in height. The narrow, tight habit of the cultivar creates an 18-inch wide clump.
This grass grows best in well-drained, fertile soils with sufficient moisture, but will tolerate tighter soils in drier sites. Fertilizer is necessary to produce maximum height. Low fertility will result in shorter plants.
Little maintenance is required except to cut back the stems to about 6 inches in late winter or early spring. At the Truck Crops Branch Experiment Station in Crystal Springs, we normally cut the grass back about the same time we prune the roses.
Established clumps can be divided in the fall or early spring. The larger the transplanted portion, the faster you get rewarded with those gorgeous plumes. May gardeners fear ornamental grass overtaking a garden. This will not happen with Karl Foerster since the plant is sterile --eliminating the prospects of unwanted seedlings.
Some call this the perpetual motion grass. The slightest breeze sets it in motion. The graceful movement is a highlight for any landscape. Sometimes we forget that a little motion in the landscape is valuable as it creates another visual dynamic. It is excellent as a specimen plant or providing a vertical accent in the landscape.
Some designers use it for creating a fast-developing screen. Others find that this feather reed grass is useful in patio pot containers and will survive the winter without protection. Floral designers appreciate this variety for its use in fresh or dried arrangements. Stems cut before the flowers mature will last for months in an arrangement while maintaining the golden tan color.
The feather reed grass is tough in weather. In heavy winds and rains the stems dip and droop in all directions but return to vertical as soon as the storm passes.
A combination of feather reed grass with other perennials makes a dramatic effect in the landscape. Choice perennials to use are coreopsis, purple cone flower, black-eyed Susans and Victoria blue salvia.
You will find the Karl Foerster feather reed grass environmentally friendly as it is free of serious disease or insect problems. It is best planted in the spring so look around your landscape and see where you can use one of the prettiest ornamental grasses available. Then go shopping for Karl Forester and other great ornamental grasses at your local garden center.