Now is the time to appreciate all grasses, but especially the few that thrive in the shade. While other perennials and deciduous trees and shrubs are in fall decline, grasses shine now, with their mature seed heads and ripe fall color. In my shade garden I am enjoying Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’), Northern Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) and Carex ‘Ice Dance.’
Japanese Forest Grass is a minor miracle, bringing lime-light to dark corners. Its blades are striped with chartreuse and green, forming elegant arches about a foot above the ground. A good cluster of this grass mimics the flow of water in a stream. That’s during the spring and summer. Now it enhances the show with its whispery seed heads and a tinge of pink to accent the surrounding season.
Japanese Forest Grass will tolerate moderate shade but does demand some moisture. Otherwise, it is carefree and pest resistant in Zones 5-9. Of course, it gets along beautifully with hostas. I also like it with Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’—very complementary right now—and Corydalis lutea. No shade garden should be without it. (The one drawback is that it tends to be expensive. This is understandable since it takes time to establish before it begins to spread.)
Whoever named ‘Ice Dance’ knew what they were talking about! Another gracefully arching groundcover, this sedge grass features strappy leaf-green blades with cool white margins. When the tufts rustle together in the wind, it truly is a dance. Because grasses in the Carex family have a course edge to their blades, they are resistant to deer and other threats. And Ice Dance is easy to please. Plant it, water it until it’s established its roots, and cut back the spent foliage before the new blades come up in spring. Otherwise ignore it—except for when you want to treat your eyes to a robust, healthy, unperturbed plant. Right now it looks as crisp and fresh as an October day.
The one pest that I have seen damage both Ice Dance and Japanese Forest Grass is the vole, attacking from below. This grass recovers more quickly. In fact, it is quick to spread, but is not intrusive. And
There is even a tall grass for shade, and it is a delight. Chasmanthium latifolia reaches 3 feet tall, bowing to dangle its spangly seedheads in the merest whisp of a breeze. The oat-like seedheads are the stars here. Right now they have matured to a golden tan, and the normally green leaves are turning yellow.
Tags: Zones 5-9, gardening in the Northeast, CT gardening, Gardening in New England, Corydalis lutea, Sedum 'Autumn Joy', voles, Winter interest, Fall, Fall color, seedheads, easy care perennials, shade grasses, Japanese Forest Grass, Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola', Northern Sea Oats, Chasmanthium latifolia, ornamental grasses, grasses, shade gardening
Northern Sea Oats is as easy as the others I’ve mentioned, happy in moderate soil and part shade in Zones 5-9. I’ve never seen it suffer from pests or disease. It does tend to seed itself, but is no trouble to control. And what a treat it is to see above the snow!