Best Ornamental Grasses for Shade
The best ornamental grasses for shade are often the lowest growing such as sedges and Japanese forest grasses. 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 in 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.
The great news is that many of these grasses and grass-like perennials are highly colorful and will add great contrast to your shady spaces, even if they are not adding much in the way of height.
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 usually (but not always) moist, sedges, liriope and Japanese forest grasses are great lovers of constant moisture. In the case of Japanese forest grass however, boggy soil can mean root rot – plant that one in well-draining soil for best results.
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, sedges, Japanese forest grasses, maiden grasses and liriopes – 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 Meadows
The definition of 'ornamental' grass becomes hazy when creating a meadow. Planted in large swathes, these grasses will not necessarily stand alone as specimens, yet are still relied upon for color, texture and height. 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.
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