One of the most common questions we get here in the fall at Van Wilgen’s is, “Why are my pines turning yellow? Are they sick?” The answer is, thankfully, no. All trees and shrubs renew their foliage annually in the spring and summer and shed old, unneeded foliage in the fall. While this is most apparent on deciduous trees and shrubs, such as maples and hydrangeas, which shed the entirety of their foliage annually, evergreens like pines, spruces, and holly shed as well as a part of their regular life cycle. Most evergreens hold their needles or leaves for two to three years before shedding, so what you are seeing is actually evidence that your tree is growing, thriving, and aging normally.
Let’s face facts- there are way too many great ornamental grasses to hope to limit yourself to one type. Panicum, bluestems, miscanthus, Pennisetum- the list goes on and on. But after you’ve gone crazy and put sixteen of every type in your yard, how the heck do you tell them apart? It’s actually easier than you’d think.
Pennisetum, or the fountain grasses, have a classic, bottlebrush seed head that almost looks like a rabbit’s foot or pipe cleaner. As an added bonus, these will produce a seed head earlier than any other large growing ornamental grass.
Panicum, or switchgrass, is one of our native grasses. Its seed head is airy, loose, and almost transparent until you’re close by. Fun fact- One of the most popular varieties, Ruby Ribbons, was bred at UConn and features a great mix of purple and green colors to the grass.
Bluestems fall into two pretty self-explanatory categories- the dwarf little bluestem and the larger growing big bluestem. Both produce a long, wiry seed head that opens sporadically down the line while having the added benefit of being one of the only grasses to have vibrant purple to red fall color after the first frost.
Miscanthus, or maiden grasses, are often referred to as Zebra grasses, as many cultivars have a distinctive yellow stripe either horizontally or vertically along the grass. The seed heads have a braided texture and bright golden color that sways in the wind.
Muhly grass is the most unique of the bunch. Our current favorite, “Fast Forward,” has bright pink seed heads, but any and all varieties will produce a unique seed head that resembles a thick cloud of smoke and holds onto morning dew to create a shimmering show at sunup every day.