Ornamental grasses are my favorite landscape design elements because of the variety of color, texture and dramatic effect that grasses can add. They can be used for many purposes as well: as groundcovers, as design elements, as companion plants, as specimen plants or even as decorative hedges in gardens. The best part of growing ornamental grasses is low-maintenance as most grasses are not fussy about soil or moisture. Hence, native ornamental grasses make a good choice if you are planning a low-maintenance garden.
Since grasses do not have special requirements, you can select from a broad range of species and varieties, however, best results are achieved only if you select the right type of grass for your needs. Some grasses tend to grow taller whereas some species are really low-growing grasses. Some would form very dense clumps, and some would form large mounds. Some grasses are slow-growing and vertical growth habit, and some ornamental grasses spread horizontally as ground covers or grass-carpets.
If you are designing a rock garden, you can select from a variety of grasses that would grow in rock pocket. Similarly, if you are planning some unique style of hedge, screen or divider in your garden, you can grow taller grasses with vertical growth habit.
Besides the color, texture and size, you should also consider the spot that you selected for growing grasses. Generally a sunny spot is good for growing ornamental grasses.
How to Grow Ornamental Grasses
Ornamental grasses can withstand periods of drought easily, however, young plants should be provided with sufficient water regularly until they establish themselves. Growth can be encouraged by mulching. Use general purpose fertilizer only when new growth starts. As far as propagation is concerned, most grasses can be propagated from divisions. Generally, spring is good time to divide grasses. For healthy foliage and inflorescence, make sure that your grasses receive good exposure of sunlight.
Some grasses have razor-sharp ‘leaves’; handle them with care to avoid cuts.
Popular species of ornamental grasses include:
1. Arundinaria disticha
Grows as evergreen dwarf foliage plant. Leaves are bright-green with a tinge of purple. Provide average water and bright sunlight. (Zone 6a – 9b)
2. Arundo danox (Spanish reed)
Grows as tall (up to 6 meters), leafy-clumps in tropical climates. Characterized by broad marginal leaves, this perennial grass produces feathery inflorescence in autumn. (Zone 6a – 10b)
Tall grass (up to 3 meters), makes nice accent plant and grows easily with no special requirements. Flowers grow as white, feathery heads. It is also used in dried arrangements. (Zone 5a – 9b)
4. Bambusa glaucescens (Hedge bamboo)
Excellent choice for hedging, this evergreen plant produces large dense clumps of graceful foliage. It is fast-growing plan and can be propagated easily from division. (Zone 9a – 11)
Large ornamental grass with feathery inflorescence, Pampas Grass is good choice for hedges. (Zone 7a – 10b)
6. Nassella tenuissima (Silky Thread Grass)
Good for both garden landscapes and containers, this beautiful plant produces erect clumps of leafy growth. (Zone 7a – 10b)
7. Helictotrichon sempervirens (Blue Oat Grass)
Producing dense clumps of blue-green leafy growth with semi-evergreen habit, this plant can be grown in direct sunlight as well as under light shade. (Zone 4a – 9 b)
8. Pennisetum alopecuroides (Fountain Grass)
Mound forming grass with fresh-green foliage, this plant produces delicate and beautiful white inflorescence. (Zone 5b – 9b)
9. Spartina pectinata (Cord Grass)
Preferring moist soil, this beautiful plant offers decent growth along borders and pathways. (Zone 4a – 9b)
Book: The Color Encyclopedia of Ornamental Grasses: Sedges, Rushes, Restios, Cat-Tails and Selected Bamboos by Rick Darke
While ornamental grasses will look great in your garden, if you are opting for an easier to maintain solution you might also want to consider investing in a really good quality artificial lawn available from suppliers like greatgrass.co. These days, artificial grass looks just as life-like as real grass and with a minimal amount of upkeep, it can be great value for money.