Ornamental grasses do many things for a garden: They add structure, height, grace, and movement. These characteristics are often hard to find in perennials, making ornamental grasses a true gift to a garden. When picking out grass varieties, pay attention to whether the grasses you're interested in are native to your area. Check with your local cooperative extension agency to be sure that the plant is allowed and not invasive.
Ornamental Grass Care & Habits
Ornamental grasses are incredibly easy to grow and care for. Once they're established, they typically have low water requirements and require little to no fertilizer. Once a year, it is important to cut your ornamental grasses back, right above the root line, to encourage fresh new growth.
Like most perennials, you can plant ornamental grasses in the spring or fall. Avoid planting them in the height of summer—there's a good chance they'll have trouble adjusting to the heat while establishing themselves.
Along with the height of ornamental grass, their spreading habits are something to take into consideration. Ornamental grasses either form as clumpers or runners. Clumpers will stay put and need to be divided to stay maintained. Runners, on the other hand, spread out horizontally. You'll need to keep an eye on these, as they can get invasive if they're not looked after.
You'll know it's time to divide your grass when the middle of the plant becomes hollow and dry. To divide, simply dig under the whole clump of grass. Use a sharp shovel to penetrate the center of the plant and cut into pieces. Replant the pieces and water thoroughly—or, better yet, share with neighbors and friends!
Types of Ornamental Grasses
Fountaingrass is known for its fuzzy seed heads. Depending on the variety, this gorgeous grass comes in white, green, and sometimes even pink or red plumes. This plant brings a loose and informal look into a garden bed, which is one of the reasons we love it.
Zebra grass, which is part of the miscanthus family, gets its name from the horizontal yellow stripes on its green, blade-like foliage. This grass can grow up to 7 feet tall and will turn a beige color as fall rolls around. Trying to hide that unsightly air-conditioning unit? This grass can act as a shield against it or even as a living fence.
Switchgrass is another ornamental grass that feels extremely airy and moves easily in the breeze. Medium-size grass varieties, like this one, are great for the front or middle of the flowerbed. Birds also love hiding in the feathery foliage of switchgrass.
What sets sedge apart from other ornamental grasses is that it enjoys moisture and shade—most other grasses appreciate hot and dry conditions. Sedge doubles as a clumping groundcover and comes in shades of gold, bright yellow, and even orange. Sedge and hosta make a perfect pair in a shade garden.
Moor grass comes in both large and small varieties, so you'll be sure to find a moor grass to fit your garden scene. Plant these grasses en masse to make a huge impact. Small, wind-pollinated flowers will eventually form on the tips of the foliage.