In the age of instant gratification, high-tech and time poor, homeowners everywhere have cried out for gardens that look good, but need no work. While we can't promise 'no work', ornamental grasses can deliver low maintenance and easy care. With hundreds to choose from and multiple seasons of interest, grasses are a great utilitarian addition to any garden. They can also deliver a head-turning experience. On a recent trip to Crescent Beach (near White Rock), we even saw one house with the ENTIRE landscape done with ornamental grasses. So when somebody asks, hey are you looking at my grass? The answer may be yes... :)
Here are 12 of some of our favourite ornamental grasses for the garden. Some are cool season, meaning they look best in the spring and fall. These types tend to be evergreen. Other ornamental grasses are warm-season. These ones are best during the heat of the summer and early fall. Then they die back to re-appear next year.
Mexican Feather Grass
This summer-time favourite grass has needle thin, flexible foliage that grow 1.5ft tall and as wide. It is a fine textured grass that produces feathery spikes in early summer which resemble a blonde mane of hair. Very showy in the landscape and great when planted in groups. It is native to the rocky slopes of the southwestern US and Mexico. To grow this grass, choose a fertile, well drained location in the full to part sun. It tolerates most soil conditions but dislikes ‘wet feet’.
Japanese Blood Grass
Imperata cylindrical ‘Red Baron’
This colourful warm season, spreading grass has green blades with tips that turn translucent red with age. Awesome when planted in groups or in containers. Spreads via rhizomatous roots in warm, moist conditions. Clumps are easily divided in spring. Easy to grow! Will reach 24 inches in height and 12 inches across. Best when planted in full sun to part shade. Hardy to zone 6.
Karl Foerster Feather Grass
Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’
This landscaper’s favourite is a tall, deciduous, clumping grass with an upright narrow form. Shiny, deep green leaves give way to tall spikes of feathery flowers that start white with a hint of purple then fade to yellow and buff. Best in full to part sun and drought tolerant once established. Grows to 6ft in height and 4ft wide. Excellent in boulevards, containers, gardens and even commercial installations or mass plantings. Hardy to zone 4.
Ivory Feathers Pampas Grass
Cortaderia selloana ‘Pumila’
Ivory Feathers is a dwarf form of the traditional pampas grass that is well suited for small gardens or used as a specimen. Handsome summer and fall flowers made of long stalks of white plumes are held above the foliage. It has a clumping growth habit and is drought tolerant once established. It’s also good in coastal or seaside locations. Best when planted in full sun. Grows 3-5ft in height and 4-6ft wide. Hardy in to Zone 7.
Miscanthus sinensis ‘Strictus’
This upright, summer-time grass has a more upright form as opposed to the more normal relaxed vase shaped habits of other Miscanthus. Green foliage is highlighted by dramatic horizontal golden bands. Reddish bronze plumes appear above the foliage in summer. A suitable specimen for planting in groups. Dies back in winter to reappear in the late spring. Grows to 8ft tall and 3ft wide. Best when planted in full sun. Hardy in zones 5-9.
Aureola Japanese Forest Grass
Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’
This low growing, mound forming, shade-loving grass produces bamboo like foliage with gold streaked with green. Foliage in weeping and can turn intense pinkish red in the fall. Wonderful accent for containers, edging and oriental gardens. Best when planted in the shade to part shade in fertile, moist but well drained soil. Grows 12-18 inches tall and up to 30 inches wide.
Black Mondo Grass
Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’
This outstanding evergreen grass-like perennial forms a dense clump of smooth-textured black leaves topped with spikes of pale pink flowers which are followed by black, pearl-sheened berries in fall. Deer resistant and fairly drought tolerant once established. Excellent specimen or accent plant for both containers and gardens. Best when planted in part shade to full sun in moist, but well drained soil. Grows to 6 inches high and slowly spreads in width. Hardy in zones 6-9.
Carex hachijoensis ‘Evergold’
This evergreen, clump forming sedge has attractive narrow, arching variegated cream and dark green leaves. Excellent for adding colour all year round in both gardens and containers. Trim as desired to keep neat and tidy in the winter. Best when planted in part shade and grows to 12 inches high and 18 inches wide. Hardy to zone 5.
Orange New Zealand Sedge
Another grass-like plant, the Orange Sedge is an evergreen clumping perennial with narrow coppery brown leaves that acquire orange tints in the winter. Awesome in fall and winter containers, rock gardens or mass plantings. Self-seeds with adequate moisture. Best in full to part sun. Grows to 15 inches high and wide. Hardy to zone 6.
Purple Fountain Grass
Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’
This spectacular warm-season grass has narrow, upright, arching, burgundy-purple leaves with elegantly long, fluffy foxtail-like flower spikes that are purple-pink with a silver sheen. Flowers dance in the wind and turn buff as they mature. Makes lovely cut flower and is deer resistant. While it is unmatchable in the summer, it unfortunately, is not hardy in our area and in most cases will not survive the winter. Best when planted in full sun in moist, but well drained soils. Grows to 24 inches in height and 24 inches wide. Hardy to zone 9.
Beyond Blue Fescue
Festuca glauca ‘Beyond Blue’
This hardy, cool season evergreen perennial forms a tufts of intense, powder blue, thread-like leaves. Wheat-like blue-green flowers rise on slender stems and mature to a tan-gold. Beyond Blue Fescue is both salt and deer resistant and also drought tolerant once established. Excellent for adding winter interest too! Best when planted in full sun in light, well-drained soil. Grows to 12 inches high and 18 inches wide. Super hardy to zone 3.
River Mist Northern Sea Oats
Chasmanthium latifolium ‘River Mist’
This spectacular warm season perennial grass forms a loose tuft of lovely, arching, green and white variegated foliage and clusters of unique sparkling white seed heads that arch elegantly above. Makes a wonderful cut flower and provides winter interest in the garden. Best when planted in full sun to part shade in moist, fertile, well-drained soil. Will grow to 30 inches high and 36 inches wide. Hardy to zone 5.
If you've been considering adding ornamental grasses into our garden or containers, drop by Art's Nursery and have a look at these and many other options. We'd be happy to show you the options and make recommendations. As always, call ahead to confirm availability as our selection is always changing.