Ornamental Grasses in the Garden Landscape

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Getting a gorgeous garden doesn’t just happen. One of the best parts of gardening is the planning of it. Dreaming up the garden getaway is as therapeutic for me as getting my hands in the soil. It’s part of the act of creation that is so satisfying. For year-round interest, utilizing different textures is one of the best tools in the garden design process. Adding in ornamental grasses is a great way to get different textures and colors over multiple seasons, both in the ground or in containers.

Both perennial and annual grasses can have an impact. Elegantly swaying in the breeze, use them to accent your space even after the growth season is past and winter shuts down many of our deciduous garden plants. Ornamental grasses range from about a foot to over five feet, not counting the flower head, and come in a variety of colors and patterns. To make sure you choose the right plant for the right place at the right time, do a little research and Know Before You Grow.

Ornamental Grass

Most grasses will need full sun for at least 6 hours to perform well and need appropriate soil drainage. The plant tag will provide a lot of information that you will need to plan and plant correctly. If you are interested in planting perennial grasses make sure you select species and varieties that match your USDA Hardiness zone. Getting a new plant through its establishment period is critical, so when you plant, plan to pay attention to it. After the root zone gets established it can supply the top growth with necessary resources. Until then, make sure to give it extra TLC with not too much, but not too little watering.

My garden combines multiple species of evergreens, perennials, and annuals of all kinds that fit within a color palette that compliments my home’s decor but varies in textures to keep it interesting. At least 4 different types of grasses planted in drifts of threes and fives provide transition from one bed to another. If my garden space was larger, I would probably have even more. Next year I will add more annual grasses in mixed containers that are just too cute to pass up like the Lagurus ovatus otherwise known as Bunny Tails or the majestic Cenchrus americanus Purple Millet whose seed heads are fall-fabulous.

Another interesting grass is Miscanthus sinensis or Maiden Grass which sports spiraling seed heads when dry. They form above a dense clump of upward-arching stems and leaves which give it a rounded, fountain-like appearance.
Fountain grass can be perennials (Pennisetum alopecuroides) or annuals (Pennisetum setaceum) with beautiful, creamy, or pink, foxtail shaped flower heads in summer. Beware of the invasive species Imperata cylindrica otherwise known as Cogon Grass. It can still be found in some nurseries and online as the ‘Red Baron’ or Japanese Blood Grass cultivars. Read more about this invasive and potentially fire-hazard plant.

We could go on and on from the pink cotton candy flowers of Muhly grass to drooping spikelets of the Chasmanthium latifolium river oats to so many more spectacular grass and grass-like plants for every planning purpose. To dive into more information investigate the Design Gallery feature of the North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox.