Ornamental Grasses come in all colors, shapes and sizes
If you haven’t already added some ornamental grasses to your garden, you are missing out. They are among the easiest plants to maintain and may be the only plant that will grow in that hard to fill space in your garden. Arching, flowing, mounting, feathery, they offer a choice of forms, movement, beautiful flowers and seed heads, in addition to seasonal color.
There are warm-season grasses and cold-season grasses depending on your climate, and varieties that grow in salty, sandy, acidic, and alkaline soils in both the sun and/or the shade. Ornamental grasses are a great choices for your landscape projects.
What are ornamental grasses
They are grasses, sedges (Carex) and reeds. Not all ornamental grasses are technically grasses of the Gramineae family.
The Giant Rye Grass (Elymus condensatus) pictured below, is a grass of the Leymus group of grasses that adds a dramatic statement to any garden. When you add strong pops of color, like with lantana, you have a sensational border planting.
Sedges (Cyperaceae) are ornamental grasses as well.
And rushes (Juncaceae) are also considered ornamental grasses.
It is important to make this distinction because if you suffer from hay fever, you can still plant ornamental grasses, just not of the true grass family.
Perfect for walkways and borders
When you need to fill the area next to the walkway, a feathery grass is a great choice and keeps bees away from the pathway as grasses wind pollinate.
Ornamental grasses can add that pop of structure and drama to a border and can be both the star and the background player depending on the time of year. In this border the lantana, salivia and yarrow are the showstoppers with the color. Later, the grasses will take the staring roll.
Ornamental grasses were used in many of the landscapes at the Utah Valley Parade of Homes as they grow quickly, provide varying heights to add interest to a newly planted landscape. They’re also beautiful in the fall as flowers stop blooming.
Tall ornamental grasses like Foerster’s Feather Reed Grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’) makes a great border in itself and changes to a lovely golden color in the fall. Plus, it makes nice cut flowers.
Grasses are a great way to soften, provide movement and compliment the colors of the surrounding plants. In this case Desert Spoon (dasylirion wheelerii) is softened by Silky Thread grass (nassella tenuissima). Heads up – this can be an invasive species so check with your nursery.
Beauty of the ornamental grasses
Ornamental grasses change color with the seasons and provide dramatic seed heads. Gardens are not just made up of shapes, colors and smells but sounds as well. You can also plan your garden for the soft rustling of grasses.
Pennisetum orientale ‘Tall Tails’
Muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) is a stunner.
Uses for Ornamental Grasses
In Container Gardens
Upright arching and divergent forms of grass make dramatic potted plants. Though not truly in the ornamental grass category, New Zealand Flax (Phormium tenax ‘Jack Spratt’ ) is a perfect container plant and adds that touch of dramatic flair to any pot.
Reed grass is planted is a trough to catch rainwater and contain the plant.
For the kitchen
Lemon grass (Cymbopogon citratus), is lovely to cook with, my favorite is Thai Chicken Soup (tom yum kha), but is only a warm weather plant. If you live in the warm zones plant it, even if it is only for the lemon scent. If you have a pond and an adventurous spirit, try growing wild rice (Zinania aquatic).
Many ornamental grasses work for flower arrangements, depending on the grass, dried grass flowers, seed heads, and foliage make for a impressive arrangement. Purple Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’ ) is a popular ornamental, and also makes a nice cutting. Make sure it is the cultivar that does not reseed, as in Southern California this grass can be an invasive species.
How to maintain
Depending on where you live, whether the grass is an annual or perennial (or a perennial that is an annual based on your zone), caring for it is fairly easy. Some grasses handle and do much better with a hard cut back, others need to be cut back every few years, and a few do best left on their own. Again, with so many varieties of ornamental grasses, ask your nursery how to care for your grass.
This gorgeous garden is full of very happy ornamental grasses that showcase all the uses of grasses: as a foundation planting, to fill, to add height and as a focal point. Such a thriving garden means constant maintenance is a must and grasses needed to be cut back, even in the middle of summer.
Many ornamental grasses are like lawn grasses, and a good trimming does them good. They’ll be back in full form in no time.
Even trimmed, ornamental grasses paired with rocks make a great combination. Rocks and boulders are a great way to add interest to your landscape.
Lavender is a beautiful companion plant
There are many varieties of lavender. You could theoretically have color going from spring right through to early fall. This does depend on where you live, the cooler areas will experience a longer bloom time. Spanish lavender for example, starts blooming in early spring. English lavenders (there are many) bloom mid-spring to late spring followed by English lavender hybrids like Hidcote Giant Lavender which blooms through the summer.
Lavender and ornamental grasses make a colorful border combination.
If you are in Zone 8 or up you can plant lavender in the fall, at least two months before the first frost. Otherwise, wait until spring. Very important planting tip – plant it in well-draining soil. If you live where it is hot and humid you may have to deal with rot, this plant likes to dry out between watering. Once established, certain lavenders make a good drought-tolerant plant. There are four varieties growing in my very dry, hot garden.
I could do post after post on ornamental grasses as there are just so many! I hope this started you thinking about ornamental grasses for your garden, and if you already were a fan, maybe heading out to your local nursery to add a few more. Fall is the time to sow cool-season grasses and if you live where the weather is mild you can plant bare-root warm-season grasses, or in containers, all-year-round. Get planting!
Thanks for stopping by today!