Ornamental Grasses for Structure and Interest

Ornamental Grasses for Structure and Interest

by Jackie Carroll

Miscanthus sinensisOrnamental grasses are becoming quite popular with garden designers. They add texture and interest to the garden, and when combined with a gentle breeze, the garden comes to life with sound and motion. The smaller, clump forming grasses are valued as accent plants, while the larger ornamental grasses such as Miscnthus sinensis are useful for their architectural stature, and combine well with evergreen shrubs to create a privacy screen.

The graceful, arching foliage of grasses display rich colors over a long season. Greens and blues are common in the summer, followed by rich, autumnal colors in fall and winter. Most have seedpods, flowerheads or plumes that dry well and last into winter. Leave the seedpods and plumes on the plants to add interest to the garden over winter, or cut them for long-lasting indoor arrangements.

Ornamental grasses need full sun and well-drained soil. They are a good choice for busy gardeners because they require little or no pruning, they are resistant to most insects, and they tolerate drought well. Deciduous grasses are cut back in mid- to late winter to make room for new growth.

Shopping Resources:

These catalogs are excellent shopping resources for ornamental grasses. Use them as a springboard to discover the abundance of ornamental grasses available.
High Country Gardens
Heronswood Nursery

A Few Favorites:

Festuca glauca - Blue FescueFestuca glauca
Blue Fescue
(shown at right)
This grass forms neat, dense, rounded clumps of blue-grey foliage with blue-green flowers in the summer. Try planting it with coreopsis. Blue Fescue prefers a poor but well-drained soil.
Height: 8-12 inches
Width: 12 inches

Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola'
Golden Variegated Hakone
The foliage is bright yellow streaked with green, turning to dark pink in fall. In areas with hot summers the plants will need a little midday shade, but too much shade causes the plants to loose color. This bright little grass looks great as an edging for paths.
Height: 12-14 inches
Width: 18 inches

Pennisetum alopecuroidesMiscanthus sinensis
(shown at top of page)
This tall, bamboo-like grass bears dense panicles of flowers in late summer and fall. It likes a moist but well-drained soil. Most have an upright habit. For something a little unusual, look at 'Zebrinus' which has an arching habit and leaves with pale horizontal bands.
Height: up to 5 feet
Width: up to 3 feet

Molina caerulea 'Variegata'
Purple Moore Grass
This neat, spiky plant is an excellent choice for an edging where texture is needed. From early summer on, stiff yellow stems are topped with purple spikelets.
Height:18-24 inches
Spread: 12-24 inches

Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Hameln'
(shown above at right)
This little plant looks great most of the winter. It forms a neat, elegant, fountain-like mound of narrow leaves with ivory flowers.
Height: 20 inches
Spread: 26 inches

About the Author: Jackie Carroll is an avid gardener

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