For even the most experienced gardener, landscaping the yard can be a daunting, time-consuming task. This summer as you work toward creating the ideal outdoor space, consider using an assortment of ornamental grasses in various ways throughout your landscape. Called “ornamental” for a reason, these grasses are far more decorative than the green blades covering our lawns: they’ll add interest to your garden with shape, texture, size and color—all without putting a huge dent in your wallet.
A variety of ornamental grasses are suitable for growth in our area, but choosing the right one depends on the look you desire for your space. Sizes of this type of plant run the gamut, from a few inches to a few feet tall. While low-growing grasses make excellent borders and fillers, others grow tall and lush and will work better as background, stand-alone points of interest, or even as a border between properties. Consider the different areas of the yard in which you wish to make additions; choose ornamental grasses that will work with existing flowers and plants in harmony, adding to the beauty of your space.
Japanese Blood Grass
This dramatic, upright grass adds instant color to your space. The leaves are known for their red hue, but they transform with the seasons—starting as green leaves with red tips in the spring, and changing to a deep red by autumn. Brown spikes will add winter interest to your sleeping garden; a thorough trim just before the first sign of spring will start the cycle all over again.
Japanese blood grass can grow to a height of up to two feet, so it works best in the back of a garden bed or as filler between other plantings. The grass will tolerate a moderate amount of sunlight, yet if the area is not partially shaded, this grass will need to be watered often.
Oriental Fountain Grass
Not only will this grass add height and size to your design, but it will also add movement. This fountain grass is made from clumps of slim green leaves that contain blooms of bottlebrush heads that arch gracefully toward the ground. The blooms change color throughout the year, from a faint purple in the summer that fades to gold and beige in the cooler months. Paired with more simple plants, the oriental fountain grass will add interesting texture.
This grass does well in full sun or partial shade with moist soil. Cut back the grass in the spring before the warm summer months return.
A definite way to add distinction to the other plants in your yard is by adding the popular blue fescue. This grass is made of slim, sharp leaves that form small clusters. Just as the name implies, its leaves are silver-blue that becomes more intense during the summer months. Paired next to vibrant, bushy flowers or taller grasses within your garden, this grass can really emphasize a space. Because it is an evergreen and stays somewhat small (6 to 12 inches), it works well as a garden border.
This is a grass that loves cooler weather, so give it a little extra TLC during summer’s most intense heat. Keep it moist on a continual basis, and it will reward you the whole year through.
Black Mondo Grass
A definite eye-catcher, black mondo grass will provide drama to any landscape. The jet-black, glossy leaves of this grass offer a strong contrast with everything else in your garden. In the warm summer months, white flowers bloom from the leaves. Use black mondo grass as an accent in your landscaping, as a lush border, or even in containers on your patio or deck. Keep the grass moist, and it will thrive in either shade or sun.
Make a statement by adding height and elegance to your space with pampas grass. Not for the faint of heart, this grass grows to heights of 6 feet and more and can be invasive if not maintained. These attributes make it a dramatic tool to divide sections of the yard or act as a point of interest in your yard. It can even serve as a natural barrier between neighboring yards. The plumes—tuft-like growths from the tops of the grass stems—make lovely additions to home decorating as well.
Pampas grass flourishes in the sun and should be planted in a location that gives it adequate space to grow. Choose a location away from the perimeter of the home and away from driveways and other areas where cars pass, so that the spiky plumes do not cause any damage. Also allow room around this grass when planting it, since it will grow tremendously in height and width. Pampas grass can be trimmed aggressively, cutting back brown or dead foliage during the cooler months.
Approach your yard like you would a room in your home. Envision the colors and shapes you want to see, and make it a reality using ornamental grasses.
Learn more from Bloom’s Best Perennials and Grasses by Adrian Bloom. Timber Press, Inc., 2010.