Louis Raymond experiments in his own gardens like

a mad scientist, searching out plants that most people have

never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today

 
 

NEW Trips to Take!

Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.

 
 
 
 

NEW Plants to Try!

Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.

 
 
 
 

New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.

 
 
 
 

Plant Profiles

Striped St. Augustine Grass

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Each Summer I put a huge pot of striped St. Augustine grass on a terra-cotta pedestal so its mad runners can only cascade downward instead of growing over to the neighbors.  Week by week, it looks more and more like Cousin Itt on a fabulous hair day.

 

At the top, the growth is so thick and bright it's both punk and electric.

 

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But I think the real excitement is the cascading runners, which sprout plantlets every few inches that, if they only could touch soil, would root right in.  Hanging in space, though, they look like one of those big displays of origami cranes that Japanese school children make.

 

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St. Augustine grass isn't hardy in New England—and certainly not in a pot up on a four-foot pedestal.  By mid-October, the cascade has finally touched ground, but only days before it's all cut off and the pot is stuck in the greenhouse for the Winter.

 

 

Here's how to grow this high-energy ornamental grass:

Latin Name

Stenotaphrum secundatum 'Variegatum'

Common Name

Striped St. Augustine Grass

Family

Poaceae, the Grass family.

What kind of plant is it?

Perennial grass.

Hardiness

Zones 8 - 11.

Habit

Multi-stemmed, prostrate, rapidly outward-bound via surface runners.

Rate of Growth

Fast; effective as an annual.

Size in ten years

Stenotaphrum is normally mown as a lawn in subtropical and tropical climates world-wide; because the surface runners root as they go, spread is indefinite.  S. secundatum 'Variegatum' scarcely seems less vigorous than the all-green species: Even a four-inch pot can spread by September to a colony a foot tall at the center and three or four feet wide. 

Texture

At the center of mature (and unmown) colonies, the strongly-variegated leaves make a dense and bright mound about eighteen inches tall.  The rapidly-growing runners, which sprout new plantlets along their way, look like strands of bright butterflies, or origami cranes, if the colony is sited where the runners can trail and weep.

Grown for

its foliage: Variegated St. Augustine grass is strongly and thickly striped in white, and is one of the brightest variegated grasses available.   

 

its texture: The dense center-of-colony growth is impressive but not nearly as striking as the runners, which sprout small plantlets that look just like origami cranes.  Because there's a few inches between the plantlets, the "cranes" don't look crowded.  A cascading plant will have dozens of runners and, hence, a hundred and more of these origami-like plantlets.

 

its vigor:  even the smallest starter plant can spread outward several feet in every direction over the Summer.  Larger, older plants can easily grow runners four to six feet long in a season.

Flowering season

Stenotaphrum flowers poorly or not at all; this plant's appeal is all in the foliage and the overall habit.

Culture

Full sun, good soil, plenty of water, all possible heat.

How to handle it

From Zone 8 southward, where this grass is hardy, it can be grown in-ground as a very quick-covering groundcover—even as an actual lawn, if you also provide sunglasses.  Control is the challenge with in-ground St. Augustine grass.  The runners can grow several yards a season, and the plantlets root so well and so quickly that unless you limit the spread pro-actively by frequent edging or a permanent barrier, infestation of surrounding plantings can be difficult to prevent or fight.  Only let the plant grow free-range when everything else is much taller and a bright and wide-spreading groundcover is what you want.  That said, though, Stenotaphrum isn't particularly shade-tolerant, so while it will explore out into the surrounding plantings, it usually doesn't grow with nearly the density there that it does in full sun.

 

A better choice, then, is to grow S. secundatum 'Variegatum' as a specimen, best of all where it can cascade six feet and more in complete free-fall.  Then the hundreds-of-origami-cranes effect is truly exciting.

 

Stenotaphrum is so quick-growing, though, that even large containers can get pot-bound in a couple of months.  Water daily in hot weather—or, ideally, have the container sitting in shallow water—so the brilliant foliage doesn't scorch.  (Stenotraphum can be grown at the margins of ponds but, of course, then it doesn't cascade.)  And remember: It's a grass, so feel free to fertilize often with any normal lawn fertilizer (or, for that matter, any generic plant fertilizer).  Of course, more growth also means more watering.

 

Stenotaphrum is easy to overwinter in a cool greenhouse.  For even deeper dormancy, let the plant get lightly frosted before bringing it in.  To minimize the room it needs indoors, cut off the runners and cut the whole plant down to a couple of inches.  Water it just enough to keep it from drying out.  Unless you want to provide enough warmth that the plant wants to get back into growth, this is a quiet plant out-of-season.  Just slide it under the greenhouse bench instead of taking up more valuable light and warmth.  In March or April, bring it into brighter light, and divide pot-bound plants and replant in fresh soil.

 

Wherever you grow it, Stenotaphrum is a natural partner for anything with much larger leaves and simple vertical stems or trunks that the plant's runners won't scramble up.  Smooth-trunked palms?  Elephant ears?  Larger-leaved bamboos?  On the other hand, Stenotaphrum could be a disaster growing amid plants with trunks it can clamber up or even penetrate, like tree ferns or needle palms.  Then it could look like a swelling, rolling ocean of growth that will eventually submerge everything.   

Downsides

The plant's quick growth can be a challenge to control after-the-fact, and growth is so quick that getting behind the curve can be a matter of only a couple of weeks. 

Variants

The species has plain-green leaves and is grown world-wide as a lawn.  It comes in many cultivars that vary in disease resistance, drought tolerance, and shortness of growth (which means less-frequent mowing).  I'm not aware of any other ornamental cultivars than 'Variegatum'.

Availability

On-line.

Propagation

By division in Spring.

Native habitat

Stenotaphrum secundatum is native to southeastern North America.

 
 
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