all about ornamental grassall about ornamental grass

All About Ornamental Grass

By Charlie Nardozzi, Gardening Author and Speaker

There are more than 46 million acres of lawns grown in the United States that require millions of dollars and tons of fertilizers and pesticides to maintain. However, there is another more ecologically sustainable type of grass that is a must-have for American yards.

Ornamental grasses are low-maintenance plants that are resilient, drought tolerant, have few pests and problems, and provide good wildlife habitat. They also provide winter interest, adding structure and texture to the landscape all year round.

Fountain & Northwind Switchgrass with HydrangeasFountain & Northwind Switchgrass with Hydrangeas
Red Head Fountain Grass and Northwind Switchgrass dazzle next to Hydrangeas

Why Every Yard Needs Ornamental Grass

Grasses start the season with bright green foliage to fill out the landscape and create shelter for birds and pollinators. In fact, many native grasses are host plants for pollinators.

As the summer progresses, many varieties will produce inflorescence, or flowers, giving the plant new dimension.

As fall and winter approach, the foliage may shift colors with the season, and the flowers will produce seed heads. These not only look beautiful catching the afternoon sun, and filling out the garden when many flowers have faded, but the seeds of native grasses also provide a food source for songbirds.

Over the winter, when most plants have died back in dormancy, ornamental grasses stand proudly, providing interest in the winter landscape. 

Northern Sea Oats Northern Sea Oats
Northern Sea Oats is a highly adaptable native ornamental grass that can tolerate moist soil, and is an end of season favorite for the birds

How To Can Enhance Your Yard With Ornamental Grass

While most people think of grass as their lawn, ornamental grasses fit in many places in the landscape.

Enhance Garden Borders: In a flowering perennial border, ornamental grasses can provide interesting color, texture, height, and late-season interest to complement colorful flowers. They are good companions for late summer and fall flowers such as Zinnias, Sedum, Asters, and Goldenrod.

Add Privacy To Your Yard: As you can see, some ornamental grasses can grow quite large. This makes them excellent privacy screen plants and good for making a seasonal hedge. The tallest grasses can provide a visual block as well as a windscreen. Miscanthus and Pampas Grass are some of the largest ornamental grasses (please note that these plants are considered invasive in some regions.)

Create No-Mow Groundcover: Some ornamental grasses are excellent low-growing, groundcover plants. Sedge Grass stay below 2 feet tall while still providing interesting foliage and flower heads, and they are often mass planted as a no-mow lawn alternative. Fescue Grass is a great drought-tolerant option for dry areas.

Add Texture and Create Movement: Some grasses, such as Switchgrass, seem to dance in the wind with their airy flower heads adding motion to the garden. Many grasses make a soothing rustling sound in the breeze.

Use Grass For Cut Flowers: Many ornamental grasses produce flower heads that can be used as dried flowers indoors. These flower heads can be mixed and matched with other seasonal flowers. Being dried, they have a long vase life. Pampas Grass and Fountain Grass are two popular species for cutting.

Pink Cloud Muhly GrassPink Cloud Muhly Grass
Pink Cloud Muhly Grass is a native and drought tolerant ornamental grass with showy, airy pink texture.

The Many Types Of Ornamental Grass

The term "ornamental grass" encompasses a wide range of plant species from around the world. Some are native to the Midwest prairies, while others are exotic imports. Some ornamental grasses can be invasive with spreading roots or self-sow readily, there are many native and introduced ornamental grasses that are well-behaved in a landscape.

Ornamental grasses are generally grouped into cool- and warm-season grasses. Cool-season grasses start growing in early spring and flower from fall to winter. Warm-season grasses start growing in late spring, once temperatures warm, and flower and set seed in summer and fall. 

For more information about selecting the right grasses for your next planting, read How To Choose Ornamental Grass

Ornamental Grasses: Solutions For Challenging Areas

When selecting any ornamental grass, you'll need to first find a grass that is hardy in your area and suits your growing conditions.

Look for clumping versus spreading types and determine if you have the right location for that type of grass to grow and thrive. There's nothing worse than planting a large growing grass in a small space where it will be crowding other plants or blocking a walkway. Also, some ornamental grass, such as Northern Sea Oats, self-sow readily and can spread. If you want to contain their growth habit, you can trim back the plants or harvest the flower heads before they set seed, or be diligent about weeding out seedlings each spring.

Also consider what season you need color or interest in your garden. If you're looking for interesting leaf textures and colors in summer, look for colorful leaves on grasses such as Japanese blood grass and Porcupine grass. If you’re more inclined to enjoy interesting grasses in fall and winter, look for showy flower heads such as those on Fountain Grass.

Shop Ornamental Grass


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