how to grow ornamental grasshow to grow ornamental grass

How To Grow Ornamental Grass

Ornamental Grass is a no-fuss addition to any perennial garden or meadowscape. 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 foliage and flower heads. 

When & Where To Plant Ornamental Grass

Light: There are many species of grass available from American Meadows - some species grow and bloom best in full sun, while others can tolerate full to part shade. Be sure to use our shopping filters to find the right plants for your growing conditions.

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 Care For Ornamental Grass Throughout The Season

Growth Habit: Ornamental grasses vary widely in their growth habits - each product page includes information on the growth habit of each plant cultivar. Generally, most ornamental grasses are up to 6 feet tall and up to 3 feet wide - as mentioned above, use shopping filters to find the right plants for your yard.

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. If you find that your grass is flopping, you can tie tall grasses to stakes in summer to support them.

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.

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 affect ornamental grasses, especially in wetter areas. To prevent disease, space plants further apart and clean up trimmings 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 younger plants with more tender leaves. Repellent sprays containing garlic, pepper, and cayenne can be rotated and applied on the foliage to keep deer away.

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
Purple Miscanthus is both deer and rabbit resistant
fountain grassesfountain grasses
Fountain grasses are admired for their beautiful, spray-like foliage.

End Of Season Care

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

  • Divide cool-season ornamental grass in spring before new growth starts. Divide warm-season from mid-spring to early summer.
  • Cut back the grass, then dig up the clump.
  • With a sharp spade or even a large serrated garden knife, cut the clump into sections.
  • Replant in similar growing conditions, adding compost to the planting hole. Water well.

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. Use a hedge trimmer or hand pruners to cut back your grasses.

The timing of cutting back your grasses depends on if they are cool or warm-season grasses.

  • Cool-season grasses such as fescue, feather grass, and northern sea oats, should be cut back in early spring, just as new growth starts. Cut back the plant so about 1/3rd of the old growth remains.
  • Warm-season grasses, such as miscanthus and fountain grass, can be trimmed in fall if you don't want to save the seed heads over the winter; or they can be trimmed in mid-spring just as new growth starts. Cut these back to the ground. 
  • 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 trimmings and move it 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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