by Teresa Kluver
It seems like everywhere I look these days, ornamental grasses are being incorporated into the landscape. There is good reason. These plants come in every size, shape and color. They add movement, color, texture and variety to the landscape. There are also varieties that prefer nearly every growing condition we can throw at them. Wet, dry, sunny, shady; you name it and there is an ornamental grass that will fit the bill.But, like any plant, it is good to know your goals when making your selection. Are you looking for something to cover an area? Choose a spreading grass. Are you looking for dramatic flower heads, spring or fall interest or a grass that is evergreen? You have lots of options. Let’s look at a few of the categories that may be of interest to you.
They are not all green. Golden or white variegation, bronze, orange or blue-green, ornamental grasses can bring color to the garden for a long period of time. A few examples are: Japanese Blood Grass (Imperata cylindrical ‘Red Baron’) is a red-leaved, spreading deciduous grass preferring moist soils. Forest Grass (Hakonecholoa macra) is a low, spreading deciduous plant that is available in gold or variegated. Blue Oat Grass is an evergreen grass that blooms early in late May with tall tassels that move easily in the wind. This grass is steely blue in color.
Most of us are familiar with Pampas grass (Cortaderia). Many folks are attracted to the large flower plumes this plant is noted for. There are now many species of this evergreen grass, some small in stature, others with a pink blush to their plumes. The genus Carex or sedges, hosts a great number of species with ornamental interest. Generally grown for their variety of color, not their flower, these plants are some of the easiest to incorporate into the landscape.
Grasses may spread by sending out root rhizomes or by seeding. Some do both. Black Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Ebony Knight’) is the darkest of grasses and spreads through its root system. It is low-growing and is spectacular when contrasted with plants that are pale green. Mexican Feather Grass (Stipa tenuissima) has the softest, most graceful appearance, but seeds easily.
Many grasses are grown for their spectacular flower display. Simply the name Fountain grass (Pennisetum) describes the late-summer blooms of the many varieties of this grass. Japanese Silver grass (Miscanthus) is a large family of grasses that are often stout in size, have good fall color and blooms that will stand up through the winter for additional interest.
Often grasses golden in color are more tolerant of shade and can even be burned with full-sun exposure. Whether a Moor grass (Molinia), a sedge (Carex), or Sweet Flag (Acorus); many grasses are very successful in shady conditions.
Many of our wet loving grasses used in ornamental landscapes were developed from native species. Cattail is actually a bulrush, not a grass, but small species are available that are very appropriate for pond-side landscapes. Blue Medusa rush (Juncus inflexus ‘Afro’) is also not a grass, but its wavy grass-like stems add interest in a boggy or wet garden area.
You might wonder how to decide. Always read the plant label. Do your research. And then, look for plants in the landscape. Grass Lawn Park has over ten varieties of grasses planted in the pavilion gardens. Grasses are used in the landscapes at Municipal Campus and even in the street medians along Bear Creek Parkway. Grasses are also effective in containers either with shrubs or perennials, or as the centerpiece with bordering annuals. These versatile plants can add texture, color and contrast to your gardening space.
- The book The Color Encyclopedia of Ornamental Grasses by Rick Drake
- The guide Taylor’s Guide to Ornamental Grasses
- Many of the university extension offices have literature available on ornamental grasses.