Thirty years ago, you could hardly find any mention of ornamental grasses in gardening books. Just 20 years ago, a popular guide to gardening touted “fancy grasses” as a way to make your yard look “different from any in the neighborhood.” But today, fliers from a major garden center prominently advertise ornamental grasses with the claim, “Choose from over 20 varieties”!
There’s good reason for the extraordinary growth in popularity of ornamental grasses. Consider what they have to offer:
- Low maintenance and high rate of success. Ornamental grasses are among the easiest garden plants to grow and, once established, require relatively little care.
- Tolerance of poor conditions. Ornamental grasses will do better in improved soil, but will tolerate ordinary soil if drainage is adequate.
- Varieties for full sun or partial shade. Most grasses will grow larger and fuller in full sun, but some varieties will do quite well with less light. Northern sea oats, maiden grass, and various sedges are a few of the grasses that adapt well to shadier conditions.
- Tall or short, thin or fat. Whether you need a low clumping grass for the front of a border or a tall, elegant columnar specimen for the back of a bed, you’ll find an ornamental grass with the size and shape you need. The foliage can be tufted, mounded, upright, arching, or fountain-like, so before buying, be sure to check what the grass will look like (including the height) when mature.
- Colorful, monochromatic, or variegated foliage – plus plumes! Not all grasses are green. Summer foliage can range from the creamy white of variegated manna grass to the yellow-green of Gold Band pampas grass to the aptly named blue fescue and purple-leaved fountain grass. Many grasses also are topped by flowers or plumes, providing additional color from white to pink to amber.
- Winter interest. Many ornamental grasses can be left standing over the winter to add color, texture, and form to the landscape even while dormant. (But note that those grasses left standing do like to be cut back in late winter or early spring before new growth starts.)
We’ll bet that any gardener can find a place in his or her yard that would benefit from the addition of at least one ornamental grass – or, better yet, several. So visit your local garden center and peruse the selection of grasses. As with other garden plants, be sure you buy varieties to fit your growing site and climate – and check whether the grass is a perennial or annual in your area.
For voluptuous plants and vigorous growth, use garden soil when planting your ornamental grasses, then follow up with regular feedings of plant food during the growing season.