Landscaping With Ornamental Grasses

AAA Print

Ornamental grasses are gaining popularity in the home landscape. Not only are ornamental grasses extremely easy to maintain and tolerant of extreme wetness and drought, ornamental grasses provide an interesting focal point for any garden. There is an ornamental grass for every garden type and weather condition. There are ornamental grasses for wet areas and dry areas. Growth habits vary between low-growing groundcovers to grasses that are taller than a man. And, to make life interesting, ornamental grasses change colors and shapes with the changing seasons.

Selecting The Right Ornamental Grass For Your Landscaping

When deciding if an ornamental grass is appropriate for your landscape, there are several considerations:

  • Ornamental grasses are either annuals or perennials. Annual grasses die off at the end of the season when the flowers have quit blooming. Annual grasses last for just one season. Perennial grasses, on the other hand, will be a permanent fixture in the garden for many years.
  • Ornamental grasses may be either evergreen or deciduous. Evergreen grasses are winter hardy and stay green in cold weather. Deciduous grasses become dry and brittle during the cold months. On deciduous grasses, mature flowers dry out at the end of the season and will remain on the plant during the winter to create an interesting contrast to the winter landscape.
  • Ornamental grasses are either clump forming or creeping. Clump forming grasses grow in compact bunches and each bunch gets wider as the plant grows larger. Creeping grasses spread either on top of the ground from stolons or below the ground from rhizomes. Clump forming grasses are easier to maintain within a specific space. Creeping grasses can easily spread through a yard. An advantage of creeping grasses is that they can be used to stabilize a hillside.

Before buying any ornamental grass, make sure that it does not have the potential to become invasive. Some grasses can be a problem in some areas because the ornamental grass could displace native grass species or may become a fire hazard in some areas. For example, Pampas Grass is not considered to be a problem inFloridabut it is a pest inCalifornia. Before purchasing any ornamental grass, check with local garden centers or the local County Extension office to be sure it is appropriate for your area.

ornamental grasses ornamental grasses

Cool Season and Warm Season Ornamental Grasses

Ornamental grasses are either warm season grasses or cool season grasses. Warm season grasses grow during the warm months and go dormant during the cold months. When in a dormant state, these grasses may either stay green or the foliage may dry out. Warm season grasses can tolerate the heat and many varieties produce flowers.

Most cool season grasses are evergreens that grow mostly during the cooler spring and fall months. These ornamental grasses do not do well in hot and dry conditions. Many will be dormant during the summer. Cool season grasses easily survive mild winters but can be damaged by a hard winter freeze.

Here are some popular ornamental grasses for warm and cool climates:

  • Fescue is a clumping, cool season grass. Blue Fescue works well as a groundcover for a small area.
  • Feather reed grass is a medium-size clumping, cool season grass. It tolerates heavy soils and poor drainage. It is also deer resistant.
  • Miscanthus is a clumping, warm season grass that has attractive flowers. Zebragrass can be used as a privacy screen.
  • Switchgrass is a clumping, warm season grass that turns bright yellow in the fall. Switchgrass provides habitat for butterfly larvae and provides seed for ground feeding birds.
  • Fountaingrass is a clumping, warm season grass with foxtail shaped flowers.

Landscaping With Ornamental Grasses

Ornamental grasses vary in size from low-growing groundcovers to tall and majestic looking plumes of grass and flowers. Here are some ways to use different sized grasses in the landscape:

  • Use short, clumping grasses as groundcovers, a border between flowerbeds and walkways, or as an accent plant along with flowering plants.
  • Short grasses make great container plants. Plant around the edge of the container to hide the container rim.
  • Use medium height grasses as a partial screen to create privacy in a yard. Ornamental grasses can be used as a wind break around picnic and seating areas.
  • Tall grasses add a vertical element to the landscape or to divide the yard into separate areas.

Here are a few ornamental grasses that will add character to a garden:

  • Japanese Sweet Flag prefers constantly moist soil. To add a licorice scent to a garden, look for ‘Licorice.’
  • Big Bluestem is a tall grass with blue-green leaves that turn rust in the fall.
  • Japanese Sedge is a tall plant that grows in a moist and shaded environment. ‘Goldband’ has green and white striped leaves.
  • Hairgrass sprouts light purple flowers in the fall that turn tan in winter. Prefers full sun and is very drought tolerant.
  • Japanese blood grass is a red and green groundcover that does not flower. It is a spreading variety and will grow well in containers.

If you are looking for a show-stopping plant that provides a variety of foliage colors and textures, produces colorful blooms, and creates movement and sound in the garden, consider planting an ornamental grass. Ornamental grasses add a vertical element to a garden that is hard to achieve with other shrubs and trees. The seasonal color changes of ornamental grasses will give your garden a fresh updated look as the weather changes without any holiday decorating work on your part.

Last Updated: May 6, 2012
AAA Print

About Coletta Teske Coletta Teske has 25 years' experience in tech journalism, as well as home and gardening topics. She has freelanced for Fortune 500 companies such as Boeing and Microsoft, published more than two dozen computer books for Prima Publishing and Macmillan, and worked as a freelance correspondent for West Hawaii Today. Coletta has been an avid gardener since she was 2 years old. While living in Hawaii, she achieved a lifelong dream of becoming a certified master gardener.

Note: The information provided on this site may be provided by third parties. The owners and operators of this site do not guarantee the accuracy, completeness, and compliance of the content on this site. Such content is not and shall not be deemed tax, legal, financial, or other advice, and we encourage you to confirm the accuracy of the content. Use is at your own risk, and use of this site shall be deemed acceptance of the above.