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Wind Dancer love grass performs landscape ballet
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
Even if the heat has been oppressive, you must admit that late summer opens the door to one of the best times in the landscape for ornamental grasses. Just when you are ready to throw in the towel for the gardening season, these landscape warriors start sending up blooms and plumes demanding attention.
One of my recently introduced favorites is Wind Dancer Eragrostis, a native love grass that easily grows to 4 feet tall in our area. This name aptly describes what happens once it blooms in the landscape. It sways and dances back and forth often in more than one direction at the same time.
The plumes mature to a tan color in August, gradually to a lighter straw color in autumn and continue to maintain interest throughout the winter. Wind Dancer is a drought-tolerant, cold-hardy perennial through zone 6 and can be grown in the landscape or large containers.
To grow yours, select a site in full sun with fertile, organic-rich soil. Amend the soil as needed with 3 to 4 inches of organic matter like compost or humus. Till the soil to a depth of 8 to 10 inches and incorporate 2 pounds of a slow-release 12-6-6 fertilizer.
Dig the planting hole two to three times as wide as the rootball, but no deeper. Plant your Wind Dancer at the same depth it is growing in the container with the crown slightly above the soil profile. Space plants 36 to 48 inches apart, and apply a good layer of mulch after planting.
In late winter, cut the foliage back to the ground before spring growth resumes. Apply a light application of the fertilizer at the time of pruning and again in midsummer. Keep the grass watered during prolonged dry periods of summer for the best appearance. Clumps can be divided in early spring.
Since Wind Dancer reaches 3 to 4 feet in height, plant it in the middle or toward the back of the border. Large drifts of three to five clumps separating other perennial plantings are also very striking.
It looks at home in any kind of garden. Wind Dancer is exceptional in combination with shrub roses like Knock Out or Nearly Wild. Grow them in beds with lantanas like Peach Sunrise, one of the new selections on the Landmark series, or the Mississippi Medallion award-winning Sonset. Use them with other grasses like dwarf pampas, purple fountain or black bamboo.
Spring plantings may be ideal, but rest assured that container-grown ornamental grasses can be planted anytime.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of ornamental grasses sold each year at the Fall Flower and Garden Fest in Crystal Springs. You can see Wind Dancer and a lot more grasses at Mississippi State University's Truck Crops Experiment Station. This year's event is Oct. 14 and 15. Call (601) 892-3731 for more information or to arrange group tours.