How to Grow Ornamental Grass

how to grow ornamental grasshow to grow ornamental grass

Ornamental Grass is a no-fuss addition to any perennial garden

Ornamental grasses have become all the rage in landscaping circles. There are good reasons so many gardeners are growing them: they are tough, drought- tolerant plants that add a visual appeal from summer through winter with their attractive leaves and flower heads. Select a grass that’s hardy for your area with the growth habits (bunching or spreading) that you prefer.

When & Where to Plant Ornamental Grass

Light: Ornamental grasses grow and bloom best in full sun. They can tolerate part shade but the flowering will be reduced and the plants may get leggy.

Soil Conditions: Ornamental grasses are not picky about soil conditions. They will grow in poor to fertile soils. However, adding compost to soils will help with the grasses overall vigor.

Spacing: Space ornamental grass 1 to 3 feet apart depending on the variety. If you want your grasses to form a solid wall of greenery, plant closer together. Spreading grasses will fill in faster than clumping type grasses, so they can be planted further apart.

Planting: Plant ornamental grasses in spring so they have time to get established before winter. You can also plant in fall in warmer parts of the country, where winters aren't as severe.

disturbing root systemsdisturbing root systems
Lightly disturb any thick root systems before planting.
planting grassplanting grass
Gather and hold lengthy grass growth above the planting hole.
pressing down grasspressing down grass
Press down firmly to make sure that your freshly-planted grass won't settle and sink below the soil line.

How to Grow Ornamental Grass Throughout the Season

Growth Habit: Ornamental grasses vary widely in their growth habits. Short clumping, mounding grasses grow only 1 foot tall and wide. Tall, spreading varieties can grow 7 of more feet tall and spread by underground rhizomes. Generally, most ornamental grasses are found in the 1 to 6 foot tall and 1 to 3 foot wide range.

Staking: Ornamental grasses grown in full sun without too much nitrogen fertilizer should be sturdy enough to stand tall on their own. However, those taller grasses with large flower heads grown in part shade may have weaker stems and are more likely to flop over in the wind. Also, grasses grown with too much nitrogen fertilizer will stimulate tall, weak stems. Tie these tall grasses to stakes in summer to support them when they have large flower heads in fall.

Watering:Ornamental grasses are generally drought tolerant once established. However, it's good to water young grass transplants frequently until they get established. It's also important to grow the right grass type for your region. Grasses that require more water may not be good choices for drier areas of the country.

carex planted in a rock gardencarex planted in a rock garden
Carex, a variegated sedge grass does well in part-to-full shade.
maiden grassmaiden grass
Maiden grass (aka Miscanthus) is both deer and rabbit-proof.
fountain grassesfountain grasses
Fountain grasses are admired for their beautiful, spray-like foliage.

Fertilizing: Other than mixing in some compost when planting, and adding an annual 1 to 2 inch thick layer of compost each spring, ornamental grasses don't require extra fertilizer. If you're growing ornamental grasses on very poor soil, consider adding a small amount of an organic 5-5-5 fertilizer in spring.

Trimming & Pruning: The beauty of ornamental grasses is their fall flower heads that will last into spring. Leave the flower heads in winter to enjoy or cut a few to bring indoors and add to your flower arrangements.

When you cut back your grasses depends on if they are cool or warm-season grasses. Cool-season grasses such as fescue, ribbon grass, feather grass and northern sea oats should be cut back in early spring before new growth starts. Cut back the plant so about 1/3rd of the old growth remains.

Warm-season grasses, such as Japanese blood grass, maiden grass, and fountain grass, should be trimmed in fall if you don't want to save the grass heads, or mid spring before new growth starts. Cut these back to the ground. Use a hedge trimmer or hand pruners to cut back your grasses. Some, such as Miscanthus grass, have sharp grass blades, so wear gloves as well. Before cutting the grasses back, wrap a rope or Velcro tie around the bundle of grass and cut below the wrap. This makes it easier to gather the grass and move to the compost pile.

Mulching: Ornamental grasses benefit from a 2- to 3-inch layer of bark mulch added in spring. This will help maintain soil moisture and prevent weeds from getting established between the grasses.

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Ornamental Grass: End of Season Care

Dividing & Transplanting: Ornamental grasses can get too large for an area and may need dividing every few years. This is also a good way to spread favorite ornamental grasses around your yard or share with friends and family. Also, some of the clumping types will die out in the center, indicating that they need to be divided.

To divide your cool-season ornamental grass, in spring before new growth starts and after cutting back the grass, dig up the clump. With a sharp spade or even a large serrated garden knife, cut the clump into sections. Replant in a similar area as the original grass, adding compost to the hole and water well. Divide warm season grass the same way from mid spring to early summer.

feather reed grassesfeather reed grasses
Feather Reed grasses can be used to create a transition layer between tree lines and yards or garden edges. Shifting colors throughout the season, they can also make a dramatic statement all on their own.

Pests & Disease: Ornamental grasses generally are low maintenance and pest free. However, young plants and new growth can sometimes have aphids and spider mites on the foliage. Sprays of insecticidal soap can kill them.

Diseases, such as rust and powdery mildew, can also effect ornamental grasses, especially in wetter areas. Space plants further apart and clean up the dead foliage well in winter or early spring to remove any fungal spores in the area.

While deer generally avoid most grasses, they still might show an interest, especially in ornamental grasses with young or more-tender leaves. Repellent sprays containing garlic, cayenne, rotten eggs or slaughterhouse waste, can be rotated and applied on the foliage to keep deer away. Of course, a 7-foot tall fence around your garden is the best defense.

Ornamental Grass: Extra Info

Ornamental grasses are not only low maintenance, attractive additions to your landscape, they are good wildlife plants providing feed and shelter for birds. They also are an ecologically good choice since they require little care and help prevent erosion.


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