The Best Ornamental Grasses For Any Purpose
Grasses fulfill many design roles in the garden – providing privacy, pattern, and strong architectural elements. But they can also meet functional needs by creating habitat for wildlife or maintaining effective erosion control along a steep bank. Knowing what you want from a grass can help you narrow down your choices and decide if the way a particular grass spreads or grows will eventually become a problem for your landscape.
Best Ornamental Grasses for Shade
The best ornamental grasses for shade are sedges. Taller grasses are rarely vigorous in shade conditions and tend to reach toward sunlight and eventually flop – although you can certainly experiment with varying levels of sun with maiden and fountain grasses.
Liriope and Mondo grass, while not technically grasses, are terrific in shade and certainly give a grass-like effect to the landscape; and blue fescues are often happy in a part shade position, particularly with moist soil.
Best Ornamental Grasses for Moist Areas
In sunny spots, maiden, feather reed and fountain grasses relish a consistently moist, but not boggy soil, but can grow fat on it, so watch out! In the shade, which is sometimes moist, sedges, are great lovers of constant moisture.
Best Ornamental Grasses for Privacy
Large grasses such as maiden and pampas cultivars can enclose a space and create a sense of serenity and privacy, but often they are planted too close together or their eventual width is not taken into consideration. Don’t underestimate the use of slightly smaller medium grasses such as switchgrass to give you the same effect – particularly if the area is a seating area and views at eye-level will still be blocked.
Best Ornamental Grasses for Small Gardens
If you have a small garden, it is vital that you carefully research the grass you wish to grow and assume that the tall end of its height range is the eventual height you will end up with in your landscape. Clump-forming grasses are usually your best bet, such as fountain grasses or fescues. Small gardens with a bit of shade have even more choices with sedges too.
Also, don’t forget to consider the possibility of showcasing a colorful medium-sized clumping grass as a specimen, such as 'Morning Light' maiden grass or 'Karley Rose' fountain grass. Sometimes a bold planting in a small space can really attract the eye and give a professional touch to your design.
Best Ornamental Grasses for Pathways or Hedging
Edging with grasses is a wonderful way of bringing attention to a specific path in your garden or creating a formal touch – but it’s important to use grasses that are clump forming and well-behaved when it comes to self-seeding. Low to medium mounds of fountain grass can create just the look you want throughout all four seasons; but if you’re interested in larger grasses to create a tunnel affect, make sure you choose those that are strongly vertical and that won’t grow too far into the path itself (such as feather reed grasses or switchgrasses).
Best Ornamental Grasses For Color
Many grasses bring late-season color to the garden as they age, such as big and little bluestems, and switchgrasses, but others – such as many of the fescues, and sedges, start the season with silver, chartreuse, cream, gold, yellows, and all shades in-between. Don’t forget about the color of flowering stems and seed heads – they often provide great contrast to the foliage (as with blue fescues), creating a stunning specimen in the landscape.
Best Ornamental Grasses for Containers
Mounding cultivars of medium and small grasses lend themselves beautifully to containers. They create a soft, portable feature that can be left on its own as a specimen, or if smaller, paired with other perennials to create texture and movement in a container.
Fountain grasses are one of the most popular container plants, but the highly colorful and evergreen nature of many of the sedges is contributing to their growing popularity. Small to medium maiden grasses that don’t require staking are also a good choice planted on their own – particularly if you are trying to add privacy to a deck or patio.
Best Ornamental Grasses for Four-Season Interest
When you plant anything in your garden, thinking about the way it will look during the off-season is just as important as thinking about how it looks during the growing season – and this consideration is precisely why many of the ornamental grasses shine. From the tawny colors of maiden grasses topped with frothy plumes to the evergreen golds, greens, and silvers of bright sedges and liriopes, there are looks for every taste.
Don’t forget to consider the architectural impact of drying grass clumps as well. Switchgrasses and big and little bluestems remain upright in the landscape, as do some species of feather reed grass. When contrasted with coniferous and broadleaf evergreens, these grasses can help you get well on your way toward a four-season garden.
Best Ornamental Grasses for Wildlife Habitat
Giving wildlife a place to shelter during the seasons is just as important as providing a food source, and many of our native warm season grasses make a terrific habitat for birds and insects. Big bluestem and little bluestem, switchgrasses, and Indiangrass grow quickly and densely and are erect throughout the winter months. Planting them with various perennial plants such as coneflower, black-eyed Susan, or butterfly weed ensures that there’s not just a home available, but a meal as well.
Best Ornamental Grasses for Meadowscaping & Mass Planting
Ornamental Grasses are the ideal addition to naturalistic plantings. Planted in large swathes, these grasses deliver color, texture, and movement from spring through fall, and can fill your landscape with texture over the winter as well. Grasses with upright habits, such as Big Bluestems and Little Bluestems are a popular choice for clumping grasses in a meadow, while Indiangrass, lovegrass, and wild rye can provide more of a uniform background to other flowering perennials.