Friday, July 8, 2022

Ornamental Grass Hunting at the Big Box Stores (and Where Big Box Grasses Go to Die)

Leymus arenarius spikelets (taken using non-macro lens)

I am a big fan of ornamental grasses. 

In my time I have purchased many natives such as various Panicum virgatum cultivars ("Northwind",  "Thundercloud", "Heavy Metal", "Hot Rod"), Andropogon gerardii cultivars ("Black Hawk", "RainDance"), and even a few Schizachyrium scoparium like “Twilight Zone”. I even have potential invasives like Miscanthus sinensis "Morning Light" and Japanese Blood Grass (Imperata cylindrica), both of which I obtained a long time back before I knew they were considered iffy ornamentals.

Most of my purchases have been at specialized Garden Centers or from online, but every time I visit Lowe's or Home Depot, I make it a point to visit their Garden department in search of unusual grasses.

The typical store scatters the grasses across various sections, but Lowe's is a favorite of mine because some Lowe's stores even have an ornamental grass section!

You go, Lowe's!

On one trip to a New Jersey Lowe's I decided to list all the available ornamental grasses in the store. 

Most of the ornamental grasses were crowded into one bench, but there were still a few scattered here and there. The usual purple fountain grasses were available (Cenchrus setaceus/Pennisetum setaceum), as were varieties of Miscanthus sinensis ("Adagio", "Variegata"), and the really cute Festuca glauca (in this case, "Beyond Blue"). There were even pots of Cymbopogon citratus (Lemon grass), which normally is placed separately from other ornamentals. These are typical types for this region, as well as in Florida stores (especially the fountain grasses).

Interestingly enough, I did find a species that I normally don't see in New Jersey stores. A couple of pots had Cortaderia selloana (White Pampas Grass)!

An unusual Cortaderia selloana for sale

This species of course has been considered invasive for some time now, but it would be wrong to say it is not gorgeous when in full flower, and so it has been a favorite of lay gardeners in many places. I was surprised to see it here though, as  it usually grows better farther south.

But the species that really stopped me in my tracks was a row of Leymus arenarius. The grasses were in flower, and the blue green hue of the leaves of this native species made me love it on sight. It's safe to say that I will likely get this sand-loving grass in future if I have space for it in my new home.

Leymus arenarius - beautiful in blue

On the way back to my car, I saw some clearance racks that had been parked to the side of the store. Curious about what I would find, I walked closer and found myself staring at the dying and drying bodies of various potted grass specimens. 

Where box store grasses go to die

Most of the dried up plants had grown long, their limp blades obscuring the name tags. I peered closely and found that many of them were Calamagrostis spp, with a couple of Miscanthus sinensis cultivars thrown in and a lone Muhlenbergia sp. A few still had green blades poking up through the mass of dried gold, and I knew that these could still be saved.

When I asked some store reps about the items, they said those plants were going be thrown away if no one bought them at clearance. It seems too many were in stock, and most had deteriorated due to negligence and poor lighting. 

I left after awhile, feeling a bit sad for the dying grasses. There should be a way to calculate the correct stock, and a way to take better care of these ornamental plants.


  1. Would love to know what you would consider "safe" ornamental grasses for Nova Scotia gardeners?

    1. I had to Google where Nova Scotia is, but it looks like you have prairie? In which case the Big 4 grasses should be safe in your area. We're talking all the amazing Panicum virgatum varieties (my favs), as well as cultivars of Andropogon gerardii, Schizachyrium scoparium and Sorghatrum nutans. All these are hardy and some are gorgeous. When I get home I can find more details for you.

  2. This organization will probably be able to help you with specific plants in your area.