By Richard Flowers, ACCNP-Green Thumb Nursery-Ventura
When people think of grasses, they are reminded of something that is “untidy” and “weedy” during certain times of the year. Unlike most grass- like plants, Mat Rush has less of a reputation of having a “scruffy” look, instead it puts on more of a clean and attractive display. These plants are known to have lush, long, narrow blade-like leaves that arise from a central stemless base. There stems on most varieties give the sense of a cool and soft texture that is appealing to the eye and useful in the landscape. Mat Rush has thick, woody underground rhizomes and fibrous roots. These underground roots spread at a moderate rate making them a perfect subject for mass plantings and not being so invasive like some other grasses.
So who is Mat Rush, is it a person, well, I am sorry to say it is not, instead it is a grass. Mat Rush is the common name for Lomandra, a genus with about 50 species of grassy plants that has a widespread distribution through diverse habitats from rainforests to arid areas, meaning they are an incredibly adaptable plant that can tolerate wet, humid conditions to hot and dry situations. Mat Rush is largely native to Australia but with 2 species extending into New Guinea and New Caledonia and are related to such plants as Aloe and Cordyline. The common name is not what one would think as ordinary. These plants are commonly called Mat Rush because the leaves were used for weaving into mats by the Australian Aboriginal people, who also used the leaf bases as a food. Another common name for this plant is Basket Grass because they were also used to make baskets, but I will use the former in this text.
Now that we know where they come from and what plants Mat Rushes are related to, it gives you a clear idea on how to use these plants in your garden. Knowing that they are from Australia, it is best to group them with other Aussie plants like Flax, Grevillea, Kangaroo Paw, Flax Lilly, and Proteas. Armed with the information on what plants they are related to, you now have an understanding that Mat Rushes all look splendid with Cordylines, Aloes, Agaves, and Palms. Other noteworthy plants that do well with them are Heavenly Bamboo, Coneflower, Salvia, Acacia Cousin Itt, and Russian Sage. This impressive grass is a versatile plant that can also be used as an interior plant, in aquatic gardens, and as a dry growing plant that can be planted beneath Eucalyptus, Tea Tree or other Australian native trees as a ground cover. Whether you have a seacoast garden, hot interior valley landscape, shade, sun, dry or wet area, Mat Rush will surely adapt to its environment.
This species is easy to grow, the general requirements are abundant to little or nearly no supplemental irrigation. Plants will grow actively and more robust when water is adequately provided but when water is withheld, in most situations Mat Rush should not die but stop active growth. More irrigation will need to be provided in hotter inland locations but for coastal gardens, especially in the shade, these plants can certainly be considered “drought tolerant”. Generally they are a tough, easy-care, plant that tolerates salt spray, and provides an alternative to rigid looking, low-growing shrubs because of its soft texture on most varieties. Mat Rush usually grows to 3 ft. tall and wide, but some varieties grow smaller. If need be, every once in a while, if you want to in the fall, you can cut them back hard and they will respond very well with a new set of attractive, fresh growth. You have the option of cutting them as low as 6 inches tall and they should re-sprout and grow back quickly.
In recent years there has been an explosion of popularity of these grassy plants and so many different selections of Mat Rush to choose from. Some of the most common types are “Breeze” and “Seascape” which are both lower growing varieties and sometimes called Dwarf Mat Rush. One of the newer varieties is called Platinum Beauty which has striking variegated foliage. Many other varieties of Mat Rush are commonly offered. This species is dioecious meaning that the male and female flowers are on separate plants. However most, if not all, of the newer selections are male clones so these plants cannot re-seed which is a plus when potential weediness is considered. Many forms have been used for years, but recent selections have greatly increase their garden application. These new and improved forms are more compact and/or less messy than the older, less domesticated forms. A very strong feature of this group is its great application for grass-like form and effects in landscapes while being substantially less attractive to rodents such as gophers, voles and mice, which can ravage grass-heavy landscapes, especially when used en masse. Mat Rushes have a relaxed, elegant, fountain-like, and arching form that is symmetrical making them a perfect plant for single plantings. You can use them as an accent plant in the center of a bed or a planter area in the middle of a lawn. This carefree grass also makes a beautiful edging plant, as they keep their neat form without the need for trimming or clipping. Mat Rushes create an impressive impact when used for a very low maintenance garden. They are also happy being a container subject where their cascading tufts of narrow leaves can be seen to great effect which would look awesome on a balcony to enjoy. It will grow in wet areas and dry locations, in shade under trees, and in full sun. They will flourish at the damp edge of a garden pond or fountain or how about in a dry border, and for colder areas, most are are surprisingly frost tolerant and hardy to about 20 deg. f. They are adaptable to a variety of soils like heavy clay and light sand and are not fussy about soil ph requirement. If you have a difficult site in your garden, use Mat Rush, it will come to the rescue. These great grasses are excellent at binding loose soil together, helping to prevent erosion. They will also grow in a challenging windy rooftop locations in urban areas.
Their green-yellow flowering spikes may not be traditionally showy, but are very interesting to use if you are a keen flower arranger. Birds love them too, and the small flowers of some varieties are fragrant. It’s rare to find a plant with all these attributes, that is so easy to grow. Check out these exciting plants and other awesome products at your favorite Green Thumb Nursery.
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