Ornamental grasses are being used in many ways in new landscape designs. Some are planted as bold specimen plants, others arranged in large mass plantings, and still others as low growing groundcovers or edgings. Attractive foliage, showy flowers and bold seed heads make annual and perennial grasses popular in both commercial and homeowner landscaping.
Some grasses are grown for their colorful foliage, ranging from almost black through green, blue-green, gold, red, cream and white. Some are very attractively striped or banded, while others are planted primarily for their flower plumes and spikes. Several of the ornamental grasses provide dramatic and lasting interest through the winter months. And some types can do all of these things for the landscape!
Because grasses provide movement and texture as well as color, they combine well with other kinds of plants. While large mass plantings can suit commercial landscapes, the most successful way for home gardeners to use many of the ornamental grasses is to integrate them into mixed plantings along with perennials, annuals, shrubs, bulbs and evergreens.
Tall upright types of ornamental grasses will create linear interest visually, especially at the back of a border. Many of these have attractive and bold lines and feathery or plume like seedheads, holding their visual interest throughout the year.
Medium sized grasses can be massed together, and are very suitable in a garden that is designed to be low maintenance. They combine well with spring flowering bulbs. Use these medium sized grasses also in a border, where they can add texture and movement without taking over visually.
The low growing ornamental grasses are ideal for edging around shrubs or combining with spreading evergreens. They can also be mass-planted for a low maintenance ground cover or planted in rockeries for textural interest.
Some ornamental grasses are evergreen, while others are deciduous. Evergreen ones are not cut back, and the clumps of grass blades will need to be raked through to remove any dead leaves and spent flower stalks. Deciduous grasses are cut back around the base of the clump to 3 – 4 inches in early spring, before new blades appear.
Grasses can be placed on two basic groups, depending on their growth cycles:
Cool season grasses start their growth in early spring, and reach full size before hot summer weather causes them to brown out. Most are medium to low sized plants, and mowing them in July will encourage lush regrowth for the fall. Some will remain evergreen in areas with mild winters.
Warm season grasses are the stars of late summer and fall. With their tall clumps with showy spikes or plumes of flowers, they are the drama queens of the grasses. These grasses enjoy hot summer weather, but will add garden interest throughout the winter. Prune them back in late winter, before new growth begins in spring.
If you are thinking of adding ornamental grasses to your home landscape, get familiar with what is available in your climate zone. Visit parks or gardens in your area so you can see them first hand, in all seasons.