Yesterday we heard about the first casualty of the overly eager gardener. A gentleman came in because he wanted to replace his Huron Sunrise Miscanthus. It’s a tall ornamental grass with very showy plumes in the fall that has a multitude of common names like Maiden Grass, Eulalia Grass, Japanese Silver Grass, and many more, but I’ll get into common names at a later date.
When he asked if we had any Huron Sunrise because his plant hadn’t made it, Oliviah explained that it was too early for the grass to be showing signs of life, but it was probably fine and he should give it more time. They don’t usually show signs of life until June. His reply was that it was definitely dead. He knew this because he had already dug it out of the garden and disposed of it. This is something we hear about every Spring and if he’s reading this, you can take comfort in the knowledge that you’re not the first gardener to do this, and you definitely won’t be the last.
Many ornamental grasses are warm season grasses. They stay hidden in the ground until they’re completely sure that there’s no danger of frost and it’s nice and warm. It’s kind of like waking up on a chilly morning, pulling the blanket over your head and thinking “it’s Saturday and I don’t have to get up yet so I’m just going to stay here where it’s nice and warm”.
Ornamental grasses have a number of late sleepers. The most common ones are Miscanthus, Panicum (switch grass), and Pennisetum (fountain grass). Other grasses that you should wait a little longer for include: Andropogon (big blue stem), Bouteloua (mosquito grass), Chasmanthium (northern sea oats), Molinia (moor grass), Schizachyrium (little blue stem), Sorghastrum (indian grass) and Sporobolus (prairie drop seed)
It’s not just ornamental grasses that like to sleep late, either. There’s a big slumber party going on in your garden. Perennial Hibiscus always look dead until the beginning of June. They have huge dinnerplate sized flowers that put on a fabulous show later in the season, a reward for your patience in the Spring. That patience can really be tested some years. Last year, I didn’t see life on them until the third week of June because of the cooler temperatures. Platycodon (balloon flowers), Gaura, Acanthus (bear’s breeches), Tricyrtis (toad lilies), Asclepias (butterfly weed), Ceratostigma (leadwort) and many ferns are among the perennials that emerge later in the season.
It’s not just the herbaceous perennials that are late. A number of shrubs fall victim to the Spring cleanup, too. Buddleia (butterfly bush), Caryopteris (bluebeard), Cotinus (smoke bush), Clethra (summersweet), and Hibiscus syriacus (rose of sharon) are just a few that look like sticks in the ground in May, but are worth the wait when they come into their own.
After their first winter, many plants, like Clematis, Lilies, and Bloodroot can be later to show up than they would be after being established. And location plays a part in when plants get going in the Spring. More sun or a warm spot near the house or a large rock means an earlier riser. This is often why you can have three clumps of the same plant, with two clumps looking healthy and one looking dead. A few extra weeks and you’d never notice the difference.
Be patient and give your plants enough time to wake up in the Spring. Poppies, and bulbs, like tulips and daffodils, planted among your later perennials can give you a lot of colour and mask the bare spots they seem to leave. The bonus there is that the later perennials will mask the dying foliage. As for the Huron Sunrise Miscanthus, hopefully it went into a compost pile with lots of sun. If it did, he might just find that he has a very pretty compost pile later this year.