If your garden is getting a little tired, or just needs a little “more”, take a design trick from the pros. Add ornamental grasses! They contemporize any garden style, are easy to maintain and offer interest over several seasons. They also offer great form, focal points, privacy and texture if your garden has been missing those important design elements. Here’s how to use ornamental grasses in your garden or yard and some of our favorite varieties.
Japanese Forest Grass from ‘Proven Winners’.
Tall Ornamental Grasses
Tall ornamental grasses can be used to provide privacy in your garden, as a backdrop to a planting bed, or as a bold focal point. They look amazing when placed so that morning or evening light highlights them from behind. Hardy, drought resistant and stunning, they are a near perfect garden plant!
Editors Note: Be careful when buying ornamental grasses based on their common names – many grasses share similar common names, so always double check the Latin name to be sure of what you are getting.
Maidengrass – Miscanthus
One of the most popular grasses for gardens, Maidengrass is a larger, fine textured grass that grows in fountain form. There are many beloved varieties, some favorites being “Morning Light” and “Zebrinus” which is a cool varigated variety whose leaves looked striped! Maidengrass grows 2-9 feet tall, and 2-5 feet wide depending on variety. All it needs is well drained soil, average water and at least part sun to thrive. Miscanthus is one of our favorites to make a statement in any garden. Below is an example of Maiden Grass in bloom. Find plants for sale at ‘Burpee’.
Feather Reed Grass – Calamagrostis
Feather reed grass is being planted widely because of its architectural shape and easy growing requirements. “Karl Forester” is a favorite variety. Growing in zones 4-9, Feather reed grass needs sun to part sun, average water, and not much else! Blooms early in the summer. A favorite in more contemporary gardens and in commercial spaces for its upright growth habit. One of our favorites! You can buy this grass at ‘Burpee’.
Zebra Grass – Miscanthius Sinensis ‘Strictus’
It is pretty obvious how this tall ornamental grass got its name – the yellow bands going across the blades of grass. We love how striking this plant is in the landscape or in pots. The zebra grass has a nice upright habit that looks amazing! Does well in zones 4-9, loves full sun and moist, well drained soil. Blooms in late summer. Photo courtesy of BHG.
Short Ornamental Grasses
Fountain Grass – Pennisetum
There are many varieties of this graceful, arching grass. Growing 1-5 feet tall, with flowers that are usually white or pink, depending on variety. Perfers the sun, is drought and deer resistant, and is easy to grow. If you want to avoid self seeded starts, then choose one of the named varieties. Our favorite is a dwarf fountain grass called “Hamlyn”. Blooms later in the summer for great fall interest!
Mexican Feather Grass- Stipa
Easy to grow, and a wonderful, delicate looking fine textured grass. Medium height at around two feet, very drought tolerant once established, and hardy down to zone 6. Shade, sun, garden, containers- Mexican feather grass does it all. Its beautiful in the breeze, and tends to bloom early in the summer. Caution to those who don’t like plants that self seed- this one does. I love it here at TGG’s gardens, because it creates a really natural look. Its easy to pull unwanted starts, and to let those you want to keep just take off. Can get weighed down in a heavy rain…they usually just pop back up when they are dry! More of a problem in the shade.
Blue Oat Grass – Helictotrichon
For a more refined and controlled look, choose blue oat grass. Living up to it’s name, its a blue gray color with stiff blades and a rounded shape. Growing to four feet when in bloom, this grass works well in both more modern styles, and with a more informal and casual garden design. Also deer and drought resistant, you can grow Blue oat grass down to zone 4. Photo by ‘Doyle Landscapes’.
Blue Fescue – Festuca
Blue fescue is kind of a miniature version of Blue oat grass. Extremely versatile, it can be used for edging, rock gardens, containers, or in grouped at the front of the border. Growing just one foot high and as wide, blue fescue loves sun or part shade, and is evergreen in most areas, making it a great foundation planting. This is an easy to grow short ornamental grass and is attractive all year round! Photo by ‘BHG’.
Ornamental Grass Care
- Most grasses need at least 4-6 hours of sun a day, so make sure you don’t try to grow them in deep shade.
- Although many ornamental grasses are drought resistant, make sure you water them well their first season to help them establish their root systems.
- Grasses need to be cut back severely in late winter or early spring…don’t worry, they are fast growers! Don’t cut them back in the fall…they offer wonderful winter garden interest. Cut them to within 12-18 inches of the ground. Consider using gloves, as some grasses blades can be sharp.
- Some grasses grow in large clumps, and need to be dug up and divided every three or four years. If your grass develops a dead center, dig it up in early spring, divide the grass with a spade or sharp knife into several smaller plants, and replant them where you like. Throw away the dead center.
- Don’t over-fertilize ornamental grasses. Too much nitrogen will result in tall plants that flop over and are not strong enough to withstand wind and rain.
- Lastly, don’t underestimate the potential size of the variety you plant. Some grasses grow six to eight feet high and as wide, so make sure you read the tag at the nursery and choose varieties that will work in your yard. Leave them plenty of room for their mature size so they don’t crowd out the rest of the garden.
It’s easy to use ornamental grasses to create a more updated style and stronger garden design in your yard. Ornamental grasses are easy to grow, not fussy or high maintenance, and offer natural beauty to your yard. Make sure you check out our post, Don’t Cut Those Grasses for tips on when and how to prune them back.