Zone 4 Ornamental Grasses
Use ornamental grasses to landscape your property, especially if your area has restrictions on watering. Many varieties of ornamental grasses survive when flowers, vegetables and lawns wither from lack of water. Ornamental grasses exist for virtually every climate, except frozen polar areas. They range in height from about a foot up to 12 feet. Many have showy flowers and many of these keep their dried flowers and leaves held upright through the winter. The dried portions help to break up the white snowy winter landscape, and the seeds provide food for birds.
Heavy Metal Switchgrass
Heavy metal switchgrass (Panicum virgatum or "Heavy Metal") grows about 4 feet high and 2 feet wide. Its leaves are a metallic lavender-blue with a whitish surface. In autumn it produces red seedheads that mature from flowers that are dark red to purple. It grows best in full sun and combines well with wildflowers and other ornamental grasses. Switchgrass is native to the Americas and is related to the grain crop millet.
Common rush grass (Juncus effusus) grows 18 to 48 inches high and 12 to 24 inches wide, depending on the variety. The leaves of common rush are cylindrical, and it produces small yellowish flowers called cymes in summer. Plant common rush at the water's edge or in water gardens in tubs submerged in three to five inches of water. Common rush grass prefers soil on the acid side of the pH scale.
For a low-growing ornamental grass that can be grown as a specimen or planted en masse as a taller non-traditional groundcover, consider ribbon grass (Phalaris arundinacea or "Picta"). It grows just a foot tall in full sun and up to 3 feet tall in partial shade. It spreads slowly from its perimeter into a mat. Ribbon grass prefers moist soil but is tolerant of poor, sandy, dry or wet soils. Although it prefers partial shade, it will grow in full sun. If the leaves become scorched by the heat of the midsummer sun, cut them back to ground level; new growth will appear in about two weeks. Scorching is more likely if summer weather has been overly hot and dry.