Written by American Meadows and published on https://www.americanmeadows.com/.

Ornamental grasses refer to both true kinds of grass and plants that have a grass-like appearance, such as sedges, that are used for similar purposes in gardens.

Most ornamental grasses are perennials, living for two or more years. Annual grasses live for only one growing season because of their natural growth habit or they are not hardy in our climate.

How to Choose the Best Ornamental Grasses

Every garden can be enhanced by an ornamental grass. Large or small, a well-chosen grass brings rich texture, contrast and movement to space and can provide those same elements throughout the four seasons. Grasses are the ‘next step’ for the gardener seeking a professional touch – but thankfully you don’t need to be a professional to grow them!

What do we mean by ‘ornamental grass?’

As gardeners, we tend to think of anything with long, narrow foliage as grass and expect that they must all grow in similar ways, but some of our best known ‘grasses’ are merely grass-like perennials. True ornamental grasses actually include genera within four main families – true grasses, sedges, rushes and reeds – and they have very different cultivation requirements and spread in very different ways.

Where ‘Everillo’ sedge grass might thrive in the moist shade, ‘Morning Light’ maiden grass will be spindly and prone to disease. Where ‘Hameln’ fountain grass will remain in well-behaved clumps along a pathway, you may never see that pathway again if you plant rampant but beautiful ‘Northern’ sea oats against it.

Which is the best ornamental grass for you?

With so many genera and species to choose from, taking a few moments to ensure that the grass you love is a good fit for both your space and your lifestyle can save you time and energy in the long run. As the size is most often the first consideration for gardeners, let’s start by looking there first, grouping some of these different species into basic groups according to the tallest possible height they can attain:

Tall Ornamental Grasses for the Garden (6-10′)

Correctly placed, a tall ornamental grass makes an elegant statement and can create privacy and a sense of enclosure in a larger space. However, it is imperative that you ensure you have adequate room for its final size. Many large panes of grass not only grow up, but their clump size increases in circumference and a few might need judicious staking – especially in a windy area. Paying attention to the final size estimations and adjusting placement accordingly means that you won’t be faced with a difficult move in the future and can just enjoy your grass for years to come.

Here are some favorite tall cultivars of different species to browse:

Pampas Grasses (Cortederia spp.)

Pampas grasses are tall, warm climate grasses well known for large white plumes held above coarse, blue-grey foliage. They thrive in tough spots. Dwarf varieties are 2-3 feet smaller than the species, but still quite tall. They make a fabulous statement, but the species can be invasive in some areas. Sun-loving.

(Tall) Maiden Grasses (Miscanthus spp.)

Maiden grasses are one of the most versatile and well-used of ornamental grasses as there are so many colors and sizes from which to choose. Vase-shaped and tightly clumping, flowers are notoriously beautiful in autumn, especially when backlit. It can be invasive in some areas and wider-leaved cultivars may need staking. Sun and part-shade.

Ravenna grass (Saccharum spp.)

Ravenna grass, (often referred to as ‘Pampas grass’ even though it’s technically a different variety) is one of the tallest ornamental grasses – the plumes can sometimes best ten feet in the garden. However, the blue-green, strappy foliage is somewhat shorter, so it can be used as a strong vertical accent without necessarily obstructing other views. This grass can be invasive, so keep monitor any attempts to spread. Sun-loving.

Medium Ornamental Grasses for the Garden (4-5′)

Medium-sized ornamental grasses are the most versatile sized grasses in the garden. They allow the gardener to create layers of texture and movement without sacrificing too much space or blocking other important views that might be obstructed by larger grasses. They rarely need staking and can provide a contrasting background to other perennials, or simply stand on their own as a focal point surrounded by other lower growing plants. Grown this way, or as a small group of specimens, they are particularly striking, for the natural shape and color can be showcased on a very accessible level. They’re also extremely useful in containers.

Here are some favorite medium-sized grasses to consider for your garden:

 

Switchgrasses (Panicum spp.)

Switchgrasses are native, clump-forming grasses with a strongly upright habit. They form light, airy panicles of silvery-red bloom in late summer and adapt well to poor soil once established. Sometimes called ‘Bunchgrass,’ Switchgrasses are an excellent choice for restoring prairie meadows and for combining with wildflowers. Sun-loving.

Little Bluestem grasses (Schizachyrium spp.)

Very recognizable in fields and meadows, clumps of Little Bluestem begin as blue-green grasses and end the season in deep bronze and chestnut hues. This native prairie plant, also known as Beardgrass, is a rampant self-seeder that will naturalize beautifully over time. Little Bluestem can be used to form large colonies. Sun-loving.

(Small) Fountain grasses (Pennisetum spp.)

Fountain grasses have long been considered the gold standard for adding soft, colorful interest to ornamental containers and beds. Large, fluffy seed heads in varying shades of soft pink and taupe add to the display as summer draws on. Some species in this genus are annual in colder climates, but many are hardy as far as Zone 6. Sun to part-shade.

(Tall) Maiden Grasses (Miscanthus spp.)

Maiden grasses are one of the most versatile and well-used of ornamental grasses as there are so many colors and sizes from which to choose. Vase-shaped and tightly clumping, flowers are notoriously beautiful in autumn, especially when backlit. Can be invasive in some areas and wider-leaved cultivars may need staking. Sun and part-shade.

Ravenna grass (Saccharum spp.)

Ravenna grass, (often referred to as ‘Pampas grass’ even though it’s technically a different variety) is one of the tallest ornamental grasses – the plumes can sometimes best ten feet in the garden. However, the blue-green, strappy foliage is somewhat shorter, so it can be used as a strong vertical accent without necessarily obstructing other views. This grass can be invasive, so keep monitor any attempts to spread. Sun-loving.

Medium Ornamental Grasses for the Garden (4-5′)

Medium-sized ornamental grasses are the most versatile sized grasses in the garden. They allow the gardener to create layers of texture and movement without sacrificing too much space or blocking other important views that might be obstructed by larger grasses. They rarely need staking, and can provide a contrasting background to other perennials, or simply stand on their own as a focal point surrounded by other lower growing plants. Grown this way, or as a small group of specimens, they are particularly striking, for the natural shape and color can be showcased on a very accessible level. They’re also extremely useful in containers.

Here are some favorite medium-sized grasses to consider for your garden:

Switchgrasses (Panicum spp.)

Switchgrasses are native, clump-forming grasses with a strongly upright habit. They form light, airy panicles of silvery-red bloom in late summer and adapt well to poor soil once established. Sometimes called ‘Bunchgrass,’ Switchgrasses are an excellent choice for restoring prairie meadows and for combining with wildflowers. Sun-loving.

Little Bluestem grasses (Schizachyrium spp.)

Very recognizable in fields and meadows, clumps of Little Bluestem begin as blue-green grasses and end the season in deep bronze and chestnut hues. This native prairie plant , also known as Beardgrass, is a rampant self-seeder that will naturalize beautifully over time. Little Bluestem can be used to form large colonies. Sun-loving.

(Small) Fountain grasses (Pennisetum spp.)

Fountain grasses have long been considered the gold standard for adding soft, colorful interest to ornamental containers and beds. Large, fluffy seed heads in varying shades of soft pink and taupe add to the display as summer draws on. Some species in this genus are annual in colder climates, but many are hardy as far as Zone 6. Sun to part-shade.

Feather reed grasses (Calamagrostis spp.)

A favorite of landscapers, feather reed grasses can add a sharp, vertical accent, or a wider, softer one, depending upon the species. Moisture-retentive soil is best for this grass, but it can cope with drier soils once established. Pair with lower-growing perennials for an architectural look. Seed heads deliver added beauty late in the season. Sun-loving.

(Medium) Maiden grasses (Miscanthus)

Medium cultivars of the vase-shaped maiden grasses are well behaved and extremely versatile. Leaves are most often very narrow and come in a variety of colors from variegated, to gold banded, to almost pure cream. Flowers are produced in mid- to late summer and can be held throughout winter. Sun to part-shade.

Blue oat grasses (Helictotrichon spp.)

A perfect addition to the silver garden, blue oat grasses are particularly stunning when tawny flower stems are held above blue-gray leaves in mid-summer. Prefers sunny rich soils, but tolerant of many soil conditions as long as they are well-drained. Arching, evergreen leaf blades hold their shape through winter. Sun-loving.

Small ornamental grasses for the garden (1-3′)

Whether edging a pathway, filling a container or providing yet another texture for the front of the ‘border’, small ornamental grasses are fun to use and easy to design with. From lush variegated sedges to bushy gray fescues, they provide an important grassy texture in your garden without making you commit to larger specimens. There is much variability in the cultivation of small grasses – many of them thrive in shady moist spots, while others are happiest in the sun. For a gardener who has not dabbled in ornamental grasses, they’re a great group with which to get started.

Read the full article here https://www.americanmeadows.com/perennials/ornamental-grass/how-to-choose-the-best-ornamental-grasses.

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