15 Ways to Use Ornamental Grasses in Your Landscape
Whether you use them as screens, accents, or focal points, let ornamental grasses play a role in your garden or landscape.
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Tall grasses in a large grouping can be a perfect solution for screening an unpleasant view. For best effect, choose tall species such as big bluestem (it can reach 6 feet or more), moor grass (it can reach 7 feet or more), or ravennagrass (it can reach 12 feet or more).
Test Garden Tip: Keep in mind that you'll cut back ornamental grasses in early spring, so there will be a month or two while your grasses are growing that you won't have a screen.
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Create Colorful Containers
With their variety of shapes, colors, and sizes, grasses are perfect for container gardens. Here, for example, fiber opticgrass (in a simple terra-cotta container) decorates a plain old stone wall. The effect is maximized by a contrasting texture: a gray-blue echeveria.
Test Garden Tip: To create the most dramatic effect with grasses, look for the unexpected. Try contrasting colors (such as golden grass in a blue pot), textures, or shapes and sizes.
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Add Texture to Beds and Borders
Ornamental grasses add unique texture to the landscape. Soft, mounding grasses such as fountaingrass look great with plants that have a bolder texture, for example. More upright grasses, such as switchgrass, make great textural counterparts to more mounded plants.
Test Garden Tip: Maximize the effect by planting several different grasses in the same landscape. Here fountaingrass and a few varieties of miscanthus look great with black-eyed Susan, lavender, and hydrangea.
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Whether it's walls, paving, or other hardscapes, ornamental grasses can soften their look and keep them from feeling cold and uninviting. Here, for example, a mass of miscanthus softens the concrete edge of a swimming pool.
Test Garden Tip: Grasses are especially great choices for planting near swimming pools. Because the grasses don't bloom, they don't attract bees.
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Dress Up Decks and Patios
Don't limit ornamental grasses to beds and borders in your landscape. Grow them in containers to add drama to decks and patios. Here, purple fountaingrass adds elegant texture to a rooftop garden.
Test Garden Tip: Annual or tender grasses, such as purple fountaingrass, are especially good choices for growing in containers because you need to replace them again in spring anyway.
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Plant a Knot Garden
Herbs and tidy hedges such as boxwood are most commonly found in geometric knot gardens. Try adding extra interest with grasses. Here, a golden sedge is a stunning contrast to dark green boxwood.
Test Garden Tip: Tight, mounding grasses work best in knot gardens. Avoid grasses that are too loose and open; they can make the knot garden feel messy because of their loose habit.
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Add a Garden Accent
Grasses are a great accent plant for beds and borders. Here, a clump of fountaingrass subtly complements bold black-eyed Susans, canna, coleus, and petunia along a deck.
Test Garden Tip: Tuck grasses in here and there in your landscape. Use the same grass in several different parts of your garden as an accent and it will help tie your garden together.
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Edge your beds and borders with a tidy line of neat grasses. Small selections, such as the blue fescue shown here, are best for this.
Test Garden Tip: Edging with grasses works best if you plant them a little closer together than you normally would so the grasses grow together in one line.
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Create End-of-the-Season Interest
Grasses really shine at the end of the season when most annuals and perennials look worn. Many grasses offer twice the interest: They have beautiful seed heads and great fall color.
Test Garden Tip: Switchgrass, big bluestem, and little bluestem are some of our favorite grasses for great fall leaf color.
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Enjoy Garden Art
Your favorite ornamental grasses can be the perfect complement to sculpture. Here, feathergrass creates an intriguing foil to broken pottery sculptures and lamb's ears. The effect is a contemporary design that will look great all year long.
Test Garden Tip: Don't be afraid to be dramatic! Your garden can look however you like. Play with different plant and art combinations and keep trying new things until you find what suits you best.
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Grasses can be great for attracting wildlife, especially birds. They'll use the leaf blades for making nests, find shelter in larger grasses, and many species will eat the grass seeds.
Test Garden Tip: If you wish to attract birds, it's best to select grasses native to your region.
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Garnish Your Vegetable Garden
Don't limit ornamental grasses strictly to your landscape. Consider tucking them into your vegetable garden. Here the buff plumes of feather reedgrass contrast wonderfully with the rich purples of a group of eggplants.
Test Garden Tip: Clump-forming grasses, such as feather reedgrass or blue fescue, are best choices for vegetable gardens. Avoid running grasses such as ribbongrass that can become weedy if they spread too much.
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Create Formal Flair
Many grasses such as feather reedgrass or the big bluestem shown here have a distinctly upright form that's perfect for enhancing a formal theme. Plant them in pairs to maximize the effect.
Test Garden Tip: One of the easiest ways to create a formal feeling is to plant in symmetrical patterns.
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Cover Your Ground
Low-growing or mid-size grasses are top-notch ground covers. They'll do a great job of smothering weeds while creating an interesting texture for your landscape.
Test Garden Tip: Mounding grasses often make better ground covers because of their dense habit.
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Grow a Pretty Prairie
Create a meadow or prairie effect with grasses. These extra-tough plants provide lots of natural beauty with minimal maintenance. They're lower care than a lawn -- and more environmentally friendly.
Test Garden Tip: For best success with a low-maintenance meadow, select grasses that are native to your region.