What is Helictotrichon?

Anna Harrison

Helictotrichon is a genus of over 90 ornamental blue grasses in the Poaceae family that are often used as accent plants in flower gardens. They grow wild throughout the hills and meadows of Eurasia and the Mediterranean area. They are attention getting, tufted grasses that are appreciated for the architectural value of their tall, blade like foliage, which grows into 2 feet (.6 m) tall mounds. These plants produce tall, spiky cream colored flowers above the foliage in spring that quickly dry and turn brown. They are easy to care for and will grow in most climates.

Woman with a flower
Woman with a flower

Although these types of perennial grasses grow year round in areas with mild winters, they require a thick mulch to protect the roots from freezing in colder climates. This grass keeps its blue color throughout the entire summer and into fall. During winter, however, the long leaves turn a light brown, which lasts until late spring when Helictotrichon plants begin to regain their color. They can be cut back in early spring to encourage growth and fullness.

All of the Helictotrichon grasses need to be planted where they will receive direct sunlight for most of the day. They grow well near, but not in, water, and if planted in dry soil, they will require frequent watering to keep them from turning brown. Good drainage is important though because Helictotrichon does not like to have wet roots. Mature, established plants can tolerate some drought, but very dry weather will kill younger plants.

An advantage to growing this grass is that it does not require any pruning at all. It keeps its rounded shape with no maintenance or staking and does not spread. Outer leaves may turn brown and die as the plant ages; these should be removed and discarded or added to a compost pile. The leaves are sharp, so care must be taken when working around Helictotrichon. Heavy gloves should be worn to avoid cutting the hands and arms.

Helictotrichon is easily propagated by dividing the roots of a large plant. This can be done by gently breaking the roots apart with a pitchfork and creating several small plants. These should be planted immediately and kept watered until they have become established. Division can usually be done every few years.

The silvery blue leaves of Helictotrichon contrast well with plants that have reddish or yellow foliage such as coleus and cannas. They also look beautiful when planted in a row as a low hedge or border. Non-gardeners appreciate this carefree plant and often use it in foundation plantings alongside hostas and evergreen shrubs.

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