Saturday, December 29, 2012

Spodiopogon sibiricus
Frost Grass, Siberian Graybeard, Silver Spike Grass

Frost Grass is an attractive clump-forming ornamental grass from Far East Asia; China, Korea, Japan and Siberia. Growing on lower mountain slopes, forest margins and roadsides it has the upright sculptural appearance of bamboo.

6” to 8” leaves taper horizontally from shoots through spring and early summer. The bushy appearance changes as light catching 12” terminal panicles emerge in mid-summer. Foliage color changes to red or burgundy in fall.

Frost grass can create large clumps 4’ high and 3-1/2’ wide, plant as a fall specimen or in massive sweeping groups. The light green foliage creates a blending background element. While the foliage remains dense to the ground and does not require a facing element, I love a rock facing or surrounding scaled boulders comparable to its native mountain slopes. Russian Cypress provides a valuable native companion. Recommended spacing between plants is between 18”-40”, it is rather slow growing and lives for more than a decade.

Well-drained, mesic soil is desired for good appearance, wet soils should be avoided. Frost grass is not drought tolerant and should be watered to root depth every few weeks. Full sun is optimal, the grass is partially shade tolerant; in hot summer climates, more shade is recommended. It is not particular about pH. This grass is tolerant of urban pollution and salts.

The panicles only look good through fall, Frost grass is often cut back before winter sets. The dried panicles are great for dried flower arrangements.

This grass is generally propagated by division. The cultivar “West Lake” was collected from China for its pinkish-red panicles. Zone 3-8.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Russian Cypress
Microbiota decussata

This singular species was found by the Russian botanist Komarov in 1921, introduced into western gardens in 1957. Popularized in 1973 at the Chelsea Flower Show in Great Britain, it is rather uncommon.
This conifer belongs to the family Cupressaceae and is closely related to junipers (Juniperus) and true cypress (Cupressus).
Russian Cypress is a low spreading evergreen shrub 1’ to 1 ½’ high, spreading 4’ to 8’. The scale-like foliage is soft, delicate and feathery light-green in appearance. Like Eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana) the foliage turns purplish brown in winter. Inconspicuous woody single-seeded cones can be irregularly produced.

Russian Cypress is best suited to moist, loose, well-drained preferably acidic soils. In full sun it requires adequate moisture; it also can grow in partial to full shade. In poorly drained soils root rot can be a problem; it experiences no serious diseases or pests. Deer may browse the foliage.

Also called Siberian Cypress and Russian Arbovitae, this shrub is found in mountainous areas of eastern Siberia, in the lands of the Siberian Tiger. This shrub is often chosen as a groundcover over junipers because it is less susceptible to blight. It is tolerant of wind and salt, excellent for coastal areas and roadsides affected by winter road spray. It works well on slopes or embankments mixed with rock boulders. I have used Russian Cypress in rock delineated borders with rhododendrons, Frost Grass (Spodiopogon sibiricus), Artemisia lactifolia guizhou group a White Mugwort cultivar, Joe-Pye Weed (Eupatorum purpureum), Siberian Iris cultivars or Iris lactea.

‘Fuzz Ball' is the only cultivar and has soft, fuzzy foliage. It is more compact with somewhat rounded form. It makes an ideal conifer for the rock garden.

Russian cypress is an excellent groundcover choice for northern landscapes. USDA zone 2-7.
Tell me of your experience with this conifer shrub!