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Ornamental Grasses


Ornamental grasses are an attractive addition to the summer garden. They are perfect companions to the bolder and more colourful plants in the garden. Ornamental grasses are low maintenance, versatile and add a sense of rhythm and movement to the garden. Slight breezes are captured by the flower heads creating a soothing rustling sound. The diversity of size, colour and growth habit make grasses an impressive component of any garden, large or small.

Within the grass family, Gramineae, are some of the worlds most important food crops; corn, wheat, rice and oats. Turfgrasses such as Kentucky bluegrass, creeping red fescue, bentgrass and perennial ryegrass are also part of this large and commercially important family. Recently, the ornamental appeal of grasses has been discovered, creating an increase in the use of grasses in garden designs.

In my own garden, some of the larger types of ornamental grasses are used as living sculpture, to fill in areas where nothing else will thrive, as a contrast in a rather busy and colourful perennial garden and as a screen to separate a shady sitting area from the sunny lawn. Some of the smaller varieties are used as border plants and mixed with shorter perennials and annuals.

Sculptural grasses include Calamagrostis sp.(feather reed grass), Cortaderia sp. (pampas grass) and Miscanthus sinensis ‘Variegatus' (Zebra grass). The important features of sculptural grasses are their non-invasive habit, their height, the foliage and the flower heads. These selections may stand as the centre piece of the garden or be companions to some of the taller plants such as sunflowers, monarda or lilies.

Ornamental grasses are virtually pest free and can withstand many environmental changes. Areas which are typically difficult for other garden plants are often well suited for grasses. Phalaris sp. (ribbon grass) solved a design problem I had with a raised bed, surrounded by concrete attached to the house where it gets very limited sun. It has filled in beautifully and requires little or no care. The variegated foliage offers season-long interest. Gardeners beware though, because this plant can be invasive and will crowd out some of the less aggressive perennials.

In the perennial border there are all sizes and shapes of ornamental grasses which are suitable. Miscanthus sp. (several varieties available but choose a non-invasive type) has excellent height for the back of the border. The flower heads are beautiful in late summer and the foliage is impressive in the fall. Pennisetum sp. (Fountain grass) and Panicum sp. (Switch grass) are well suited for the mid section of the perennial border and work well as mass plantings. Fountain grass can be used as a substitute for the annual Dracaena (spike plant).

Grasses will work well in specialty gardens such as rock gardens, Japanese gardens or cutting gardens. Festuca ovina var glauca (blue fescue) forms blue-grey clumps with delicate seed heads and is quite drought tolerant. A larger version of this is Helictotrichon sp.(blue oat grass). Imperata (Japanese Blood Grass) is one of my favourite ornamental grass selections. It is best grown in groups of 12 or more and forms a scarlet band about 12 inches high. Annual grasses are easy to grow from seed and are excellent components for the cutting garden.

The variability in growth habit must be considered when selecting ornamental grasses. Clump forming grasses will look peculiar if used in groups since they will never form a dense ground cover. These are best used as specimens or planted amongst spreading plants. Spreading varieties will tend to out compete their neighbours unless they are kept in check.

For the natural garden, native grasses are becoming increasingly available. Sweet grass (Hierochloe odorata) is a particularly nice selection. It spreads easily, has lime green foliage with yellow seed heads and most importantly can be harvested in the fall, dried and will scent the home with a lovely sweet aroma.

Several species of wildlife will be attracted to the garden for the food and shelter you have created with the grasses. It is no wonder that ornamental grasses are deservedly gaining in popularity.


© Daisy Moore, 1998.



Other summer garden tips:

(click on the tip you want to read)


Extreme Conditions
Growing Roses
Summer Lawn Care
Propogation by Cuttings
Sources of Native Plants
Making Sense of Fertilizer Labels
Annual/Perennial Combinations
Climbing Plants
The Dry Garden
Ornamental Grasses
Chooosing A Good Gardening Book
Companion Planting
Preparing the Compost for Fall Use
Getting the Most out of your Vegetable Garden
Repairing Lawns From Summer Stress
All About Grubs
All About Onions
Useful Herbs for the Home Garden
Screens and Hedges




Home  |  Garden designs  |  Naturalized gardening  |  Help with your garden  |  Garden Tips Spring  Summer  Fall  | Contact Daisy


© Daisy Moore 2005