Today is windy, and as I am writing the plume grass outside my window is catching the golden light of an autumn day. Swaying the breeze, this gentle plant is a reminder to me that sometimes the value of ornamental grasses are greatly overlooked.
If you’ve never incorporated ornamental grasses into your landscape, you should consider them the next time you have a space because they can be so much more than a filler plant. They can add texture, grace, motion, and color to an otherwise drab area.
Aside from being low maintenance (you never have to dead-head) and water wise in our high desert area, they are available in a wide variety of sizes, heights, colors and textures to accent almost any garden.
There are a number of ways to use ornamental grasses in your yard, and one of the best is to form a privacy screen with them. Since many of them are tall and stately and can grow as tall as 8-10 feet when mature, you can plant them as you would tall shrubs like arborvitae, close together, and when they fill in they will form a privacy screen without having the solidity of denser shrubs. Karl Forester, better known as feather reed grass, would be a good choice for this and would have the added benefit of softening sounds. If you love the ocean, breezes blowing through these tall, reedy grasses can be relaxing and mimic beach sounds on your patio or porch. If you don’t have a very large front yard and are bothered by passers by, then plant medium height grasses in front of your porch to form a privacy screen there as well. Little Bluestem would be a good choice for this project.
Use them as a border along sidewalks, driveways, patios or even in your vegetable garden. Low-growing grasses are cute and effective as an edging and add texture and interest while taller ones will define the space beautifully. They can be an easy solution in areas where a more permanent fence is either too costly or not desired.
If you prefer a rustic, natural look for your property, consider using grasses instead of a lawn in some areas. They’ll appear less manicured than a traditional grass lawn. Not only will you save on the water bill with these water wise plants, but you’ll add interest and texture that will remain throughout the winter months, unlike a lawn that would go dormant. Choose a mix of tall, medium and shorter grasses when planning your yardscape. Very low-growing ones like Elijah Blue Fescue can be used as a groundcover. Incorporate plants that will reach a medium height at maturity to fill in large areas while placing tall growing plants either around the edges, or in the center as a focal point. The use of tall grasses will attract wildlife too, because birds will use them for shelter and as material for nesting throughout the season.
If you love or prefer colorful plants, don’t discount grasses. Many of them reach their peak color in later summer to fall, and often that color remains through the winter. Choose varieties like Hardy Pampas Grass for lasting color through the snowy months.
The use of ornamental grasses isn’t confined to the garden or landscape. Consider using grasses as a focal point in pots on your patio or deck to add height and interest to that area. A large pot filled with fluffy grasses can create as sense of having a meadow in your city home and will dress up an area and serve as a backdrop for a fire pit or patio area. The use of grasses around a pool, stone patio, or other hardscaped area will soften those edges and give a sense of style and movement to an area that is otherwise heavily concreted. Like wheat blowing in the breeze, these feathery, fluffy stems will sway gracefully in the wind and Blue Oat Grass is a nice one to consider for this purpose.
Most grasses prefer full sun to part shade and well drained soils, so be sure you choose a good location in your yard when planning your design. When purchasing, be sure to check the tag and make sure that the selection you have made is compatible with your area. Some grasses will not withstand our cold winters and are sold as annuals only, so if you want something that is perennial, be sure to ask what the zones for that particular plant are.
It’s not too late to get your ornamental grasses planted for this year in most places in our area. Plant your grasses according to the directions. Generally they will be spaced one to several feet apart, but be sure you allow enough room for them to grow once they fill in. Add compost to the holes before planting, especially in our clay, sand, and shale like soils here because grasses need good soil conditions in order to be successful. Dig your hole one and a half to two times the size of the plant you are installing. Water well once you have finished planting and follow your suppliers winter watering recommendations throughout the winter. Cut grasses back in late winter to stimulate spring growth. Grasses are like any other perennials and may need to be divided every few years.
Graceful, feathery grasses will sway their way into your garden for you to enjoy. Perhaps the best reason of all to plant them is that they’re the one grass you don’t have to worry about mowing every week!
Gail Vanik can be reached at 970-565-8274 or by email at email@example.com.