Growing Guide: Ornamental Grasses

Ornamental grasses can bring a welcome splash of color, contrast, and texture to any garden. Large or small, well-chosen ornamental grass can provide those same attractive elements throughout the four seasons.

Grasses are the intermediate step for the backyard gardener seeking a professional dash.

While it’s less expensive to grow them from seed, it will take years for them to grow enough to create a visual impression. That’s why most experts will tell you to buy your initial planting of ornamental grass from a nursery or an online source.

Ornamental grasses can bring a welcome splash of color, contrast, and texture to any garden.
Ornamental grasses can bring a welcome splash of color, contrast, and texture to any garden.

Growing Ornamental Grasses

You can grow ornamental grasses in diverse soil conditions. They are usually exempt from pests and diseases. Many varieties are tolerant of severe drought. Others create the illusion of movement even in the slightest breeze.

Home gardeners have found that ornamental grasses combine well with flowers and herbs. They provide an interesting backdrop of textures and colors to a garden.

You can grow ornamental grasses in diverse soil conditions.
You can grow ornamental grasses in diverse soil conditions. (Photo: Daryl Mitchell/Wikimedia Commons)

Where and How to Plant

Most ornamental grass varieties grow well in full sunlight and moderately fertile, well-draining soil. Some varieties will thrive in partial shade but would be taller and hardier when grown under full sun.

The varietal descriptions should help you decide where to situate your ornamental grass.

Once you’ve decided on a location, dig a hole about twice the width of the pot in which your plant came. If the soil is dry, fill in the planting hole with water before setting in the new plant. Settle the plant in the hole so that its base is at ground level.

Most ornamental grass varieties grow well in full sunlight and moderately fertile, well-draining soil.
Most ornamental grass varieties grow well in full sunlight and moderately fertile, well-draining soil. (Photo: H. Zell/Wikimedia Commons)

Gently loosen and spread out any roots that are coiled around the plant. To ensure vigorous growth, add compost to the soil. You can then backfill the hole, water, and set down mulch to retain moisture and keep weeds at bay.

You should give specimen plants ample room to grow. Good spacing will reduce clutter or visual competition. Many experts are of the opinion that grasses with interesting textures are best displayed in groups.

Many experts are of the opinion that grasses with interesting textures are best displayed in groups.
Many experts are of the opinion that grasses with interesting textures are best displayed in groups.

Caring for Ornamental Grasses

Grasses are hardy, but you should water a new plant regularly over the first few years, says Arricca Sansone for Country Living. This will allow the plant to establish healthy roots early on.

The plant will not appear to grow much over the first year. Even so, your ornamental grass will likely reach its full height by its third season in the ground.

Grasses are hardy, but you should water a new plant regularly over the first few years.
Grasses are hardy, but you should water a new plant regularly over the first few years.
(Photo: Acabashi/Wikimedia Commons)

Once established, ornamental grasses hold fairly well against drought. In areas with year-round rainfall, established plants will not need watering at all.

In fact, grasses that are native to an area such as Southern California will go dormant in the dry season. They may actually die if you water them.

You should trim cool-season grasses in early spring. Rake out dead leaves or cut back the entire plant to about two inches above the base.

You should cut warm-season grasses in late winter or early spring if you prefer to leave the seed heads. The heads can provide a touch of winter interest in your garden.

Once established, ornamental grasses hold fairly well against drought.
Once established, ornamental grasses hold fairly well against drought.

Divide and Replant!

Once your grass gets too big for its location, or if the center of the clump looks dead, it’s time to divide your plants. Instead of trying to dig them up the whole, use a spade to dig around the outside of the plants, scooping away small sections of the outer edges.

Replant the divided sections elsewhere. Do this before the plant’s active growth cycle begins. That is in early spring for cool-season grasses and late spring for warm-season varieties.

Be sure to wear gloves and long sleeves when tending to these plants. Many have sharp edges.

Are you ready to grow ornamental grasses in your backyard?

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