Steele: Planting ornamental grasses

This week is about ornamental grasses and long-blooming, pollinator plants.

Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’

I will focus my columns over the next four weeks on plant combination ideas for different garden themes, using plants available for purchase at the upcoming Okanagan Xeriscape Association’s plant sale, April 30, 9 a.m. to noon, at the unH2O Garden, 4075 Gordon Dr., in front of the H2O Aquatic Centre.

This week is about ornamental grasses and long-blooming, pollinator plants. All plants mentioned here need some supplemental water during hot, dry weather.

Ornamental grasses are one of the lowest maintenance plants, requiring only to be cut down to four to six inches above ground by spring.

There are two types of grasses. Cool season grasses like feather reed grass (Calamagrostis Karl Foerster) come up early in spring and bloom early summer. Warm season grasses like switch grass (Panicum) emerge later in spring and bloom at the end of summer/early fall.

Both reach four to five feet when in bloom.

Blue gramma grass (Bouteloua gracilis) is an attractive, fine-textured, short grass that blooms in June.

All are clump-forming.

Always check the species of grass you are buying to make sure it is not a running grass, like sand dune grass or ribbon grass. These are useful for erosion control but a weedy nightmare in a garden.

With its grass-like leaves, the dwarf, long-blooming daylily ‘Stella de Oro’ is a good compliment to grasses.

Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’ and Echinacea ‘Magnus’ are sturdy, long-blooming perennials that add a colourful accent to grasses.

Their black seed heads add interest to the winter garden and food for birds.

For early spring colour in this garden, I suggest you use spring bulbs.

Snowdrops, winter aconite, crocus, grape hyacinth to early, mid, and late narcissus will provide a very colourful spring garden.

The dying bulb foliage will be hidden by the emerging perennials and grasses.

Dwarf tulips with variegated leaves look great for long before and after they bloom. They are deer candy so avoid if you have deer visitors.

Dianthus ‘Brilliant’ is an evergreen spring bloomer with dark pink flowers in May. It can be used as a small ground cover.

In May and June, the soft yellow blooms of ‘Moonshine’ yarrow make a vivid combination with the purple/blue blooms of either Salvia ‘Caradonna’ or Salvia ‘East Friesland’.

These all have a repeat bloom in late summer.

We will have a few pots of the rugosa roses ‘Hansa’ and ‘Blanc de Coubert.’ They bloom heavily in spring and fall and sporadically through summer.


There is still space to register for my two xeriscape night classes April 14 and 21 or  May 4 and 11, from 7 to 9 p.m., at the St. Michael and all Angels Cathedral Hall, 608 Sutherland Ave.

Cost is $50/ person or $90/couple from same household. Register at or call 250-762-6018.