How to Select Ornamental Grasses for Your Garden

Lucy Mercer
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Ornamental Grasses | The Home Depot's Garden Club

Ornamental grasses add texture, form, motion and sound to your garden and landscape.

The phrase “ornamental grass” may bring to mind an image of towering plumes, but the category includes many grasses, big and small.

These versatile plants can be used anywhere you need a bold feature or contrast in the landscape. Plant ornamental grasses in perennial beds, as privacy screens, as groundcovers, or as a thriller in a container arrangement. They hold their own beside water features and in rock gardens, too. 

Once established, ornamental grasses are drought-tolerant and require little maintenance beyond annual applications of fertilizer and division every few years. They are not affected to a great degree by pests or diseases.

Ornamental Grasses | The Home Depot's Garden Club

Points to consider when Choosing ornamental grasses

Location. Ornamental grasses like full sun and are tolerant of most soil conditions as long as it’s not too wet. 

Solution. Ornamental grasses are landscape problem-solvers. Certain varieties have characteristics like deer- and pest-resistance. Some are salt-tolerant, others make effective windbreaks and erosion control. Ask a Garden Center associate or check the Garden Center online to learn more. 

Selection. Will this be a single, spectacular grass, or a mass planting? Consider the height of the grass and its impact on the landscape. For example, pampas grass is a lifetime commitment. Once established, it is difficult to relocate, but in the right place, it is a low-maintenance, high-impact feature. A mass planting of pink muhly grass, with its clouds of rose-colored blooms, will be a sight you will anticipate all summer long. Dwarf varieties like Little Bunny dwarf fountain grass give year-round interest in a perennial bed.

Containment. Ornamental grasses grow in either a clumping or creeping habit. Creepers grow from rhizomes, which shoot out runners. This is desirable if you have a large area to cover, but if you do not, pay careful attention to the plant tag. Grasses also make excellent container plants, adding the thriller element to fall containers.

How to Choose Ornamental Grasses | the Home Depot's Garden Club

How to Plant and Care for Ornamental Grasses

  • Before planting, work a balanced fertilizer into the soil. After the plants are established, fertilize every spring with a slow-release fertilizer.
  • Water thoroughly twice a week until established, then reduce watering to once a week. After time, rainfall is sufficient for maintenance if you take care to help out in times of drought.
  • In late winter or early spring, cut back spent foliage. Every few years, clumping grasses will need to be divided. This can be done to propagate or to clean up plants that are dying in the center.

Purple Fountain Grass | The Home Depot's Garden Club

ornamental grasses to consider for your garden

The rose red flower spikes of purple fountain grass make this a popular choice. In most of the country, it is grown as an annual. In warm climates, the grass will fade to brown in late fall. Cut it back and in spring, and it will sprout and bloom again.

Pink muhly grass, also known as Muhlenburg grass, is drought-tolerant and a great choice for borders. It is hardy in zones 7 to 10.  

Pampas grass is known for dramatic plumes that can be more than 10 feel tall. Take precautions when planting and pruning because the blades of grass are sharp enough to cut. Hardy in zones 7 to 11.

Hameln dwarf fountain grass produces buff-colored flower heads in late summer, gradually changing to soft pink and light-colored maroon. It can be used as an accent or in mass plantings and pairs nicely with coreopsis, flame grass, sedum and shrub roses.

Little Bunny dwarf fountain grass offers up fluffy plumes in late summer. It reaches about 15 inches in height, making it a fine choice for container plantings or as contrast in a perennial border or rock garden.

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