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Ornamental Grasses

Ornamental grasses can reduce your watering costs, lessen your mowing time and increase the interest level of your garden. No matter what your garden’s needs, there’s a grass to solve it. From short ground covers to tall bamboo, there’s something for every site.

About Ornamental Grasses

Generally defined as "a plant with narrow upright leaves growing from the base," ornamental grasses come in different sizes, shapes, colors and with differing growing requirements. While they may be cut to the ground each year, they are not mowed regularly, and work well as borders, specimen plants or part of coordinated beds. When choosing an ornamental grass for your site, consider the following:

  • Size
    Some beautiful grasses are just inches tall. Others, such as bamboo, grow to 20 feet or even taller. A shorter grass is a perfect edge for a walkway or to border a flowerbed, while a taller grass provides screening or background height.
  • Deciduous or Evergreen
    The winter form of a grass can be very different from its summer form. Evergreen grasses do not die back in the winter, their form remains the same. Winter colors may change and provide interest. Deciduous grasses die back or lean over. Consider the plant’s use when choosing between deciduous and evergreen. If using a grass as a screen, deciduous may not be a good idea.
  • Running or Clumping
    Clumping grasses stay where they planted, and as they grow, the overall plant width increases. However, a running grass sends runners through the ground to grow another grass plant. Sometimes this can be up to 6 feet away. This is advantageous when using the grass as a groundcover or trying to fill in a larger area. Clumping grasses can be divided if they become too large for the site.
  • Color
    Ornamental grasses are available in many colors, including variegated shades with contrasting edges. Additionally, many grass colors change throughout the year. Blues, reds, greens, yellow and variegated shades work well in different situations. A gold or white-hued grass can brighten a dark corner, whereas a dark green grass may be a perfect backdrop for smaller colorful plants.
  • Growing Requirements
    Sun, water, wind and soil requirements vary among grasses. Some require full sun; others grow best in the shade. Some grasses are ideal in rain gardens or wet soils, while others thrive best in drought conditions. Some don't mind a breezy location, while others need to be more protected. Some prefer a rich, organic soil, while others will look great even in poor soils. And, of course, there are grasses for every range in between.

Before going to the garden center to purchase an ornamental grass, make a list of your requirements. You may want a short grass to line a walkway in full sun with sandy soil. Alternatively, you may need a grass to fill a dry and shady corner. Perhaps you would like to watch a grass clump emerge in the spring, grow to 6' tall, change colors through the summer and harvest dry seed heads for an autumn arrangement. Choosing the correct grass ensures the beauty of your garden for years to come.

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