Is it a good idea to put ornamental grasses in the garden?
Ornamental grasses are a perfect solution for those who want their gardens to look good, but don’t have enough time or don’t like taking care of plants. Decorative grasses are easy to maintain, which is their biggest advantage. Even if you forget to take care of them for some time, they will retain their visual aspect.
Furthermore, many ornamental grasses look beautiful in the garden throughout the whole year. Some of them bloom, but the non-blooming varieties still look great without flowers.
When to plant ornamental grasses in the garden?
When you should plant ornamental grasses in your garden, depends on the species you pick. Nonetheless, spring is the typical best time for planting any plants. Thanks to this, they have a chance to take root before the vegetation period, and develop proper immunity before autumn and winter, when temperatures are lower.
Ornamental grasses - seedlings and availability
Seedlings of decorative grasses used for landscaping are typically available in any gardening shop. Sometimes, you can even find them in supermarkets. You can also purchase seeds of ornamental grasses instead of buying seedlings. They are just as accessible, although the Internet offers more interesting species. Certain unusual ornamental grasses can be found online, while being unavailable in physical stores.
How to combine ornamental grasses?
Ornamental grasses can be matched with basically any plant. They look perfect with small and large flowers. Perennial plants look especially good when surrounded by them. In this case, ornamental grasses can either act as a delicate complement, or become a greater part of the arrangement.
Drought-resistant ornamental grasses
Ornamental grasses that can withstand long periods of drought is a perfect choice for those who want to minimize the amount of work in their garden. Thanks to this, if there is no precipitation for a long period of time in summer, you don’t have to water the plants. The selection of ornamental grasses is quite broad in this regard. Learn about a few of them.
Reedgrass is one of the very natural-looking ornamental grasses - it looks almost wild when planted in the garden. You can use it in many arrangements - the many varieties of this plant give you plenty of options. Sometimes, this decorative grass is mistaken for pampas grass - although they are not the same.
Reedgrasses love growing in the sun or a slight shade. These ornamental grasses also need fertile soil with an addition of humus. They don’t like excessive moisture. If overwatered, they are more prone to various diseases, e.g. fungi.
Purple lovegrass (Eragrostis spectabilis) is a beautiful but rare plant. It’s typically owned by long-time gardeners who managed to get their hands on it while collecting various species. This decorative grass is characteristic for its unusual looks:
- small but thickly accumulated flowers,
- sharp-ended leaves,
- a broad shape.
Lovegrass doesn’t have any special needs as for the soil. It grows perfectly even in a poor ground. But make sure to provide enough sunlight to it. The plant shouldn’t be blocked by other plants, ornamental shrubs or trees.
Blue lyme grass (Leymus arenarius)
Blue lyme grass is an ornamental grass which often appears around seaside areas. Interestingly enough, it grows there naturally. Which doesn’t mean you cannot have it in your garden.
Blue lyme grass needs a partly permeable sandy soil. The ground doesn’t have to be fertile nor moist. The plant loves growing in full sun. Additionally, this ornamental grass is frost-resistant.
Dropseed is an unusual tall ornamental grass. In proper conditions, it can grow up to 3 meters tall. As it turns out, there are over 200 different varieties of this type of decorative grasses. Thanks to this, one can easily find a suitable plant of this type for their garden - especially that they differ in appearance as well.
Take a look at the most popular varieties:
- Sporobolus virginicus
- Sporobolus anglicus
- Sporobolus heterolepis
- Sporobolus wrightii
A sunny spot is the basic element of growing this type of decorative grass. The soil doesn’t have to be fertile - the ground can be sandy or rocky. Moderate moisture is important as well.
Low-growing ornamental grasses
Low-growing ornamental grasses are a popular group of plants. They are perfect for small gardens, where clarity is as important as the decorative aspect. There are many unique-looking short ornamental grasses perfect for any garden. Take a look at some of them.
Quaking grass (Briza media)
Quaking grass is an incredibly low plant - typically, it doesn’t grow taller than 30-50 cm. It grows best in sunny spots. The soil should be rich in humus, although it doesn’t have to be very fertile.
Quaking grass has certain universal uses. Many people dry it and use in bouquets. In some regions, this ornamental grass is also an additional ingredient of animal feeds.
Blue fescue (Festuca glauca)
Blue fescue is a low-growing ornamental grass which often appears as a charming addition in rock gardens. The unique color of this plant looks great when combined with various flowers - but make sure they aren’t too tall. It’s particularly essential, because this decorative grass grows no taller than 20-25 cm.
The soil for a blue fescue should be dry, and the spot must be sunny. The ornamental grass is resistant to various weather conditions - even low temperatures. To ensure its beautiful appearance, you can trim it from time to time.
Golden sedge (Carex aurea)
Golden sedge grows in small clusters, which amaze with their yellow-green color and make a stunning garden decoration. Although it’s not tall, it grows higher than other low-growing ornamental grasses. Depending on the conditions, it can reach up to 60 centimeters.
Golden sedge loves growing in half-shade. Fertile soil is an important aspect for this plant. The ground should also be constantly moist, hence it’s a popular decorative grass planted by ponds and lakelets.
Creeping velvet grass (Holcus mollis)
Creeping velvet grass is an exceptionally low-growing ornamental grass. Its height typically doesn’t exceed 20 cm. For this reason, it’s a perfect complimentary plant for small gardens. Additionally, it’s fairly easy to take care of. It likes growing in full sun and half-shade. The soil should be moderately moist, but a temporary dryness is not a problem either.
Tall ornamental grasses
Tall ornamental grasses are a perfect solution for large gardens. They are perfect grasses for landscaping, when you want to arrange a vast area, but have no time to take care of plants. The ornamental grasses from this category have different requirements, depending on the species. Check which ones are the best for you.
Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum)
Switchgrass is an ornamental grass offering stunning colors. Its endings change their shade, and turn red or even purple. Switchgrass is a blooming ornamental grass - the blooming season typically falls between July and the end of winter.
Decorative grasses like switchgrass need a constantly moist, fertile soil. Nonetheless, they can withstand worse conditions for a short time - without losing the aesthetics. What’s important, switchgrass must be planted in full sun.
Hairawn muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris)
Hairawn muhly stuns with its looks and rich color. Some call it simply muhly grass, and it’s one of the most popular pink grasses. It’s tall, although it never exceeds 70-80 cm. This ornamental grass is vulnerable to strong wind, so make sure to plant it in at least partially protected spot. The soil should be slightly moist, and it doesn’t have to be fertile. The plant is frost-resistant.
Foxtail fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides)
Foxtail fountain grass is one of the most difficult species of ornamental grasses. The soil for this plant has to be very fertile, permeable and moderately moist. The spot must be sunny - nothing can cast shade on it, otherwise, the plant’s development might get hindered.
The name of this ornamental grass is not a coincidence. The blossom resembles fluffy fox tails growing on long stems. Thanks to this, the foxtail fountain grass makes an original garden decoration.
Tufted hairgrass (Deschampsia cespitosa)
Tufted hairgrass, for a change, is one of the easiest ornamental grasses. Although it grows best, reaching the tallest size when planted in full sun, it can also be used in shaded spots. Moist soil is the only requirement.
The appearance of this plant is particularly noteworthy. Large, bright blossoms look like clouds from afar. The blooming period falls between June and July - unfortunately, it doesn’t last long.
Cortaderia (Cortaderia selloana)
Cortaderia is one of the most popular ornamental grasses, and it has many uses. Keep in mind few know it by this very name. The plant is commonly known as pampas grass.
Such tall decorative grasses require very fertile soil, best if rich in humus. The ground should be moderately damp. You can count on the best development if you plant cortaderias in a sunny spot.
Elephant grass (Arundo donax)
Elephant grass is one of the tallest ornamental grasses grown in gardens. It can grow up to 2 meters tall. It’s easy to grow - although it needs fertile and moist soil. This type of grass grows best in full sun. But the spot shouldn’t be in an open space, as the wind might break it or lay it down.
Elephant grass blooms sometimes. But it’s a rare occurrence, so don’t expect it to happen.
Lakeshore bulrush (Schoenoplectus lacustris)
Lakeshore bulrush in nature grows in swampy areas and by water reservoirs. It’s also known as common club-rush. It can reach impressive heights - even 3-4 meters. You can easily grow it in your garden as well. Remember about the right conditions. The spot should be in slight shade and the soil should be a mixture of sand and clay.
Siberian melic grass (Melica altissima “Atropurpurea”)
Siberian melic grass, just like many other decorative grasses, loves growing in full sun or half-shade. Make sure to plant it in sandy and moderately damp soil. The plant doesn’t bear a great decorative value, although many gardeners appreciate it for its purple blossoms.
Siberian melic grass is often used indoors - in the dried form. It can become a part of ornamental arrangements.
Foxtail barley (Hordeum jubatum)
Foxtail barley is a popular ornamental grass known across the whole world. It grows up to 60 centimeters, forming characteristic wide and thick clusters. This type of barley prefers fertile ground. The soil should be always damp. Even a short drought might affect the appearance of this plant.
Ornamental grasses for shade
Although most ornamental grasses love sunny spots, there are also types growing only in shade or half-shade. As for such plants, it’s important to follow certain rules when taking care of them. This way, you can make them look great for a long time.
Bearskin fescue (Festuca scoparia)
Bearskin fescue gained its name thanks its unusual appearance. It might resemble ordinary green grass - the difference lies in the grass blade’s structure, and the fact that this decorative grass forms characteristic round clusters.
This ornamental grass is exceptionally easy to grow - it doesn’t need any special care except from trimming by the end of summer. The spot is a crucial element, though - it should be shaded and at least partially protected against the wind. As for the soil and humidity level - the type is not important, but the ground must be moderately moist. Regardless, temporary droughts aren’t dangerous for this plant.
Black mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus)
Black mondo grass is often classified as an ornamental grass, although it’s a perennial. Thanks to its appearance, one can include this plant in the group of grasses - the classification can stand, in this case.
The leaves of a black mondo resemble regular grass. Their color is dark green mixed with purple and black. The plant blooms in summer and develops small bells. After blooming, the flowers turn into fruits - looking like small beads.
The soil for a black mondo should be moderately fertile and moist. In case of a drought, make sure to water and feed the plant regularly.
Hakone grass (Hakonechloa macra)
Hakone grass resembles a bamboo. The leaves are quite narrow and have long streaks by the edges. The clumps formed by this plant aren’t tall - usually, they reach up to 30 cm. The ornamental grass is resistant to low temperatures, although when they drop, the plant turns slightly pink.
This species benefits from fertile, permeable soil. The spot should be sunny, although the plant can grow perfectly in shade as well.
In addition to planting this ornamental grass in the garden, you can also put it in containers on the balcony or indoors. It’s a beautiful decoration, and it doesn’t need too much attention.
Sedges (Carex) are in fact a group of plants with over 2000 varieties. Practically each of them looks like classic grass grown in gardens. The most popular types include:
- lesser pond-sedge (Carex acutiformis)
- carex bohemica (Carex bohemica)
- tuft carex (Carex cespitosa)
- dioecious sedge (Carex dioica)
- elongated sedge (Carex elongata)
- fewseeded bog sedge (Carex microglochin)
- boreal bog sedge (Carex magellanica)
- few-flowered sedge (Carex pauciflora)
- remote sedge (Carex remota)
- carex contigua (Carex spicata)
- long-stalked yellow-sedge (Carex lepidocarpa)
- bladder sedge (Carex vesicaria)
Ornamental grasses like sedge prefer damp soils, although they don’t have to be fertile. Whether the spot is sunny or shaded is not important, in this case.
Moor grass (Molinia)
Moor grass is an ornamental grass that grows in tight clusters. It can be often encountered near pine forests. There are two main varieties of moor grass - the shorter purple moor-grass and the taller Molinia arundinacea. Each of the type includes multiple sub-species, which are from 75 centimeters to even 2 meters tall. The leaves of these plants have different colors - from green, through yellow, brown and purple.
Moor grasses grow well in calcium rich, as well as acidic soils - they don’t have any special needs. Just make sure the ground is damp all the time - this ornamental grass naturally grows in damp areas and wetlands. As for the spot, the plant prefers either sunny or shaded areas, which depends on the variety.
📍 How to plant ornamental grasses?
Decorative grasses shouldn't be planted too close to each other, as they might grow into each other after some time - disturbing the aesthetics of your garden. 50-60 centimeters is the minimal spacing between ornamental grasses.
📍 What are the best decorative grasses for shade?
Bearskin fescue and black mondo are the best ornamental grasses that can grow in shade. Other good species include: hakone grass, sedge and moor grass.
📍 When to plant ornamental grasses?
The time for planting ornamental grasses mostly depends on the requirements of the species. Most grasses for garden can be planted in spring.
📍 When do ornamental grasses start growing?
Ornamental grasses typically start growing in spring. These plants fully develop in summer. Most of them retain their appearance through winter as well.