How to Choose the Best Ornamental Grasses for Landscaping
When it comes to giving texture to your landscape, ornamental grasses are one of our specialties. Not only are they are great lawn alternative to grass, but they can also be sustainable and low maintenance. They are known for complementing landscape design very well, can provide great texture to the rest of your backyard design, and help create a modern look. It is a popular must-have in the backyard. Ornamental grasses are generally lower maintenance than shrubs or perennials. The reason is that they don’t need pruning or dead-heading. Though it is recommended to cut them back once a year in spring.
Here at EDI, we pride ourselves in not only giving you the yard of our dreams, but we go above and beyond. Even though you might have all the essentials covered (flowers, trees, rock, mulch, etc.), we like to give that extra spruce that your eye might not be able to catch. And one of the many ways we amplify the design is with a little addition called Ornamental grasses.
What Are Ornamental Grasses?
Ornamental grasses are plants that look like grass and they are often used in landscape design because of their hardiness, low maintenance, dramatic appearance, and the wide range of colors, textures, and sizes available.
They can be used as an extension to your landscape design, not only will they give your home substance, but other effective uses as well. This addition along the outlines of your backyard is cost-effective and complementary. Instead of building walls and planting evergreen trees and/or shrubs, these grasses are high-rise and fast-growing. It is an economic answer to keep your nosey neighbors away and will give your backyard that Zen, inviting look and feel that you need these upcoming seasons.
Types of Ornamental Grasses
Before choosing a type of ornamental grass that will be best suited for your backyard, you should be aware of a few things: what your climate is like and how the vegetation grows. Does the grass grow in clumps, or does it tend to spread? These are variables that must be taken into consideration before installing the grass that can sprout quickly and high. Ornamental grasses do have a fast growth rate and usually reach their mature size in two seasons.
Zebra Grass is our first option, and yes it has stripes. The name derives from its Latin name “Zebrinus”, meaning multicolored. A popular selection amongst gardeners that are looking for tall grasses. Under the right conditions, it can reach between 5-8 feet tall. Zebra grass should be watered regularly during the dry season and benefits from a layer of compost each year.
Our next option doesn’t suit all backyards. It’s one of our most rare but doable projects, Bamboo. And before you think otherwise, bamboo is grass, albeit a very large grass, which is why it can be a great addition for privacy. Depending on the type, Bamboo can grow up to 17 feet tall. If there is anything you should worry about, is that while bamboo is slow growing it will spread and can be difficult to eradicate once established. However, with the right planting, it is a very easy grass to maintain. It needs very little fertilizer and compost to maintain and can withstand cold climates. Bamboo should be watered moderately.
The next grass on our list is Pampas Grass, also known as plume grass or Ravenna grass. The classic grass you can easily pluck and put in your mouth for that old farmer look. It is a great option if you live in a moderate drought area. Pampas grass should be watered moderately, especially during the dry season, and requires little to no compost and fertilizer. Mature plants can reach up to 8-12 feet tall. This type of ornamental grass is on our recommended list for screening because of the affordability and its modern look. Screening is one of the most cost-effective ways to create privacy in your backyard. Because any hardscaping installation, for instance a wall, can be very expensive.
Feather Reed Grass
This type of ornamental grass is one of the most popular. It is erect, narrow, with green leaves, pinkish-purple, feathery flower spikes that grow at the end. Feather Reed Grass can complement any backyard or front lawn very nicely, especially during those summer dusk days. It’s one of the smaller ornamental grasses–it can grow between 3-5 feet. This type of ornamental grass needs an above-average moisture intake to thrive, unless you have a rain garden. We recommend cutting back the plant during the fall or early spring to promote new growth.
Next, we have our Midwest favorite, the Big Bluestem. Native to the North American foliage (easily seen in the prairie area), the grass can be easily recognized because of the blue-greenish tint everyone loves. This type of ornamental grass is tall and can reach heights of 6-8 feet. This plant is tough, meaning neither drought nor deer can faze this plant away. The Big Bluestem is one of our top favorites to recommend as ornamental grass. Though in maturity only minimal watering is required, at an early stage, you may need to water the plants constantly for a secure growth rate.
Pink Hair Grass
A modest grass that can be used to layer the outside wall of your backyard. A common favorite among many gardeners and landscapers. This type of ornamental grass can grow to an estimated 4-5 feet tall. The Pink Hair grass is favored in the backyard because it can withstand harsh dry drought and blistering colds, and it is moisturizing to its surrounding plants. The pink flowers usually blow around September, giving it that fall hint of purple. One can never go wrong with the Pink Hair Grass. It requires little to no fertilizer and compost, and helps prevent erosion around any zone you decide to locate it in.
The Fountain Grass is a beautiful and dependable ornamental grass and one we highly recommend. It can grow between 4-5 feet tall, but with premature watering and fertilizer (while not necessary but helpful) the sprout may grow 2-3 feet more. Fully mature, it does not need much attention–it is cold- and drought-tolerant. The fuzzy catkins, or the spikey flowers, give a perfect silhouette to cover most of the view into your backyard. Do be careful and make sure you do not get the miniature version. It is a common confusion to the untrained eye.Switchgrass
A rare yet useful ornamental grass. An American native grass, produces dramatic, swaying feathery pinkish-purple flower plumes and green leaves that turn copper in the fall. It can withstand all kinds of conditions. And with a common growth of 3-6 feet. The grass tends to prefer sand and red clay soil, so very minimal to no fertilizer is needed. But, if you are a fan of birds, the catkins produce seeds, which will provide food for birds. A big friend to the ecosystem.
Blonde Ambition Grama Grass
Another highly recommended ornamental grass, and a bit of a mouthful. It is a Plant Select cultivar of our native blue grama grass. It attracts birds and also requires very minimal watering. This plant boasts pretty, eyelash-shaped flowers and is a low-maintenance lawn substitute in every region except arid areas. Not one of our tallest, 3-5 feet, but it is sturdy and looks great during the fall and spring seasons.
Chinese Silver Grass (Morning Light)
Finally, we have the Chinese Silver Grass or better known as the Morning Light. The name derives from the lining of the grass turning from green to a metallic white lining, giving it a metal look from certain angles. It’s also one of the tallest in our recommended ornamental grasses. Its average is 7-9 feet; however, it does get as tall as 14 feet if you let it grow. The grass grows well in fertilizer and compost; however, it blooms faster when it is isolated in a pot. It is highly recommended to grow in a pot so that the grass can be as mobile as you need it to be, to cover any parts of your backyard from peeping neighbors. This perennial does best when cut back in the spring before new growth arrives. Not only does it look great in residential areas, but it also does well as an office plant as it is an indoor and outdoor grass. Keep in mind that if you do end up using it along the lining of your backyard wall, you will have to do your best to spread them as much as you can. The Chinese Silver Grass needs a lot of room to absorb nutrients and water regularly. Especially if you decide to plant the grass in a pot. This grass also looks great around a pool.
With fall coming, you would think it would be difficult to find ornamental grass for the winter. EDI is here to prove you wrong. Rudbeckia is more of a flower than a tall grass, however, it can grow between 2-4 feet tall and requires very minimal irrigation. They look like tall yellow daisies.
Russian sage is another fall favorite of ours. With purple spikelets and sturdy through harsh winters, it gives a modern touch to a modern landscape design.
The versatility amongst the grasses makes the decision easy to pick for your property. If it’s privacy you are looking for or making a great impression. These are our top recommendations for ornamental grasses. Some may need more upkeep than others. Some may need more irrigation than others. But with a little TLC and great knowledge, the sky’s the limit with these grasses. They grow substantially tall!
We’re Here to Help
When you’re ready to plant ornamental grasses to spruce up your landscape design, we’ll be happy to help! As award-winning commercial and residential landscape designers in Colorado, we have decades of experience to bring out the best in your outdoor spaces. At EDI, we follow and apply landscape design principles that help us create visually pleasing and creative designs for all of our clients. Contact us today to get started on your design or to learn more information about what we do and many of the other in-house services we provide.