I first discovered grasses when I moved to a beach community in Virginia. In the development I lived they had were prominent in the landscape. I loved to see them move in the warm summer breeze. Your eyes were drawn to them because of the height and movement. They also brought drama to the garden.
Perennial or ornamental grasses are versatile plants and can be used as an integral component of the perennial landscape. These plants provide season-long interest in the garden with summer foliage, fall flowers, and a dried winter appeal. They are very easy to maintain and are disease resistant.
One of the great things that perennial grasses do in the garden is they can be a focal point in the winter. They have texture and provide a contrast to the typical shrubs you see in the garden. The movement they bring to the garden makes them pretty too. These plants also make great habitat for wildlife in the winter.
Growing Perennial Grasses
These plants are great because they can be planted in-ground or in a container. They can be used as the “Thriller” or the star of the container. When planting in a container make sure the potting soil is moist. You will have to watch your containers because they need moisture to stimulate growth. When planting grasses in your garden landscape make sure the soil is well-drained and retains water. Most grasses perform best in moist soil but don’t make it too wet.
The best environment for grasses is warm temperatures especially for the plant to break dormancy. When you are ready to plant your grasses do so when the temperature outside is consistently warm. Grasses will grow best in full sun. If they are in too much shade the grasses might stretch and become leggy.
When you first plant your grasses, keep them moist until growth appears. Once the plant is established let it dry out between watering. Grasses are moderate to heavy feeders. Once your plant is actively growing fertilize it for best growth. Cut back your grasses in early spring before they start new growth. Another great thing about grasses is most of them are deer resistant and some are rabbit resistant.
Here are 10 different varieties of ornamental grasses to consider:
Andropogon – Big Bluestem - This warm-season grass is a North American native plant and is a tallgrass prairie which used to cover the Midwest. Andropogon is drought tolerant and requires very little maintenance. This plant is excellent for mass plantings and creates a lovely display when planted among flowering perennials. In the spring, the foliage starts out blue-green, gradually turning green with hints of red and finally changing to reddish-bronze in the fall. The plant will grow well in moist or dry soils. This grass will grow 4 to 8 feet and hardy for zones 4 – 9.
Bouteloua - Blue Grama Grass - This ornamental grass is native to the Great Plains and the Southwest. It is one of the shortest native ornament grasses. This grass grows 12-14 inches including the flower heads. It is fine-leaved and turns tan when the plant is dormant. It is drought tolerant and requires very little maintenance.
Calamagrostis – Feather Reed Grass - This variety is one of the most popular grasses. It will have a strong vertical effect in your garden. It has showy summer plums and in the winter the seed heads are nice-looking. Feather Reed Grass will grow 3 – 5 feet. They prefer moist soil and full sun. Hardiness zones 4 – 9. We have experience growing this type of grass. It was low maintenance and we loved it. I can’t wait for this plant to come back this year.
Carex – Sedge - Carex is used as a groundcover or around ponds and streams. It also does well in containers. This plant prefers moist soil. It looks great swaying in the wind and goes well when planted with Hostas. It is a tough, easy to grow plants. It grows 1 to 3 feet tall and is hardy for zones 5 -9.
Festuca – Blue Fescue Grass - This is a smaller variety of ornamental grass. It has small, dense mounds of tufted leaves with small seed heads. The foliage is silvery blue. This grass is perfect as a border edge or ground color. The plant prefers cooler weather and is grown mostly for its colorful foliage. It grows around 1 foot tall and is hardy for zones 4 – 8.
Hakonechloa – Japanese Forest Grass - Japanese Forest Grass is a shade-loving, deciduous perennial grass that is native to both moist mountain areas including wet rocky cliffs and moist woodland areas. It is native to central Japan. This bright colored grass has long arching bamboo-like leaves with narrow dark green margins. There are solid and variegated versions. The leaves are 10 inches long and around 3/8 inches wide. The plant looks great with Astilbe, Hosta, and Pulmonaria. The plant grows 1 foot tall and is hardy for zones 5 – 9. It can also be grown in a container.
Helictotrichon – Blue Oat Grass - This grass is among the lowest maintenance grasses and is known for its silvery-blue color. It is a taller version of Fescue with wider leaves and gracefully arching clusters of flowers. Blue Oat Grass can grow up to 4 feet. Hardiness zones 4 – 9.
Miscanthus – Maiden Grass - Miscanthus is a common and easy to grow ornamental grass. The plant has tall clumping grass with attractive foliage and is colorful in the late summer into winter. This grass is great to add height and form to the garden and can be used as a hedge. Some varieties can grow up to 7-feet. Hardiness zones 4 – 9.
Panicum – Switch Grass - Switch grass is popular ornamental grass. This variety grows in both wet and dry soils. The grass is known for its stiff columnar form and retains this vertical shape throughout the growing season. The plant blooms in late summer into fall. There are many colored varieties including ones with blue-gray foliage that turn splendid shades of gold or red in the autumn. They can grow up to 5 feet.
Pennisetum – Fountain Grass - Pennisetum grasses are wonderful mounding grass with gracefully arching foliage and stems. The flowers bloom in the late summer and are eye-catching in a summer breeze. There are miniature varieties and also some that grow over 5 feet. Hardiness zones 5 – 9.
Let us know if you have any experience growing any of these perennial grasses.
Photos courtesy of Growing Colors