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Weekly Gardening Tips for Your Area


Make a Mini-Meadow with Ornamental Grasses

Shaina Oliphant
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Whether your garden is large or small, you can create your own mini-meadow by combining native grasses and tall ornamental grasses with annuals and perennials. From colorful foliage to beautiful blooms and decorative seed heads, there are many types of grasses to choose from with. Get started on this drought-tolerant, low-maintenance garden now and add texture and beauty to your yard by following these step-by-step instructions.

Garden filled with ornamental grasses

Skill level:  Intermediate

Time to complete:  Variable


Ornamental grass


Step 1: Select a location

Choose a site that receives a minimum of 6 hours of direct sunlight and soil that is well drained and fertile. Make sure the area isn’t too large so you can maintain it. Space your plants fairly close together to achieve the effect you want instantly.


Step 2: Prepare your site

  • Spreading compost in garden bedClear the area of all weeds, small trees and shrubs.
  • You can spray a broad-spectrum weed killer or dig weeds by hand.
  • Once you have eliminated the weeds, spread 1-2 inches of compost or a soil amendment such as Miracle-Gro across the area to be planted.
  • Mix in the soil amendment or compost with a spade.
  • Rake the bed before planting to even it out and remove rocks and debris.

Step 3: Choose your ornamental grasses

Not only are ornamental grasses beautiful and easy to grow but many also thrive in extreme heat and drought. However, depending on where you live, some grasses or wildflowers can be invasive. Check with your local extension service for information about plants that are on your state’s noxious weed list.

In the South

Warm-season grasses, both native grasses and ornamental types, like the heat. They grow the most during the warmest months and flower at the end of summer. In the fall, many of them have attractive seed heads and colorful foliage that last throughout the winter.

Ornamental grass

  • Bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia) grows 5-6 feet tall.
  • Big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) grows 3-8 feet tall.
  • Japanese silver grass (Miscanthus sinensis) grows 3-10 feet tall. (In some cases, this species can be invasive. Choose cultivars that tend to be less so in your region.)
  • Mexican feather grass (Nassella) grows 1-3 feet tall.
  • Red switch grass (Panicum virgatum) grows 4-5 feet tall.


In the North

You can plant warm-season or cool-season ornamental grasses in most northern climates. Cool-season grasses grow best in spring and fall, with flowers and seeds set in late spring or early summer. Plants go dormant in summer and green up again in fall, staying green into winter.

Ornamental grass

  • Big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) grows 3-8 feet tall.
  • Feather reed grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Forester’) grows up to 6 feet tall.
  • Japanese silver grass (Miscanthus sinensis) grows 3-10 feet tall. (In some cases, this species can be invasive. Choose cultivars that tend to be less so in your region.)
  • Prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis) is a native grass that grows 2-3 feet tall.
  • Red switch grass (Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’) grows 4-5 feet tall.

Black-eyed Susans


Step 4: Choose some companion plants

Add flowering annuals and perennials for a natural-looking meadow. In both the North and South, try asters, black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia), butterfly weed (Asclepias), coneflowers (Echinacea), ox-eye daisies (Leucanthemum) or tickseed (Coreopsis).



Applying mulch to garden



Step 5: Plant grasses and companion plants

Space plants on 2-foot centers to allow room for them to spread and fill in quickly before weeds become established. Apply 1-2 inches of mulch after planting. Water them thoroughly after planting, then once a week until the ground freezes.



String Trimmer


Step 6: Keep your meadow looking natural

  • Create paths so you can have easy access to your plants.
  • Cut back grasses to a height of about 6 inches above the ground in late winter or early spring before new growth starts. Use hedge shears, hand pruners or a string trimmer.
  • Mowing down your meadow to a height of 6 inches once a year in late winter will help keep it from getting too wild and eliminate any woody plants before they become large and difficult to deal with.

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