The appeal of native ornamental grass is not just visual, it’s also highly practical. If you desire something for your landscape or garden that is simple and beautiful but doesn’t require much maintenance, consider this great option.
Native (Meet the locals)
There are many types of ornamental grasses you can grow, but the benefit of planting native grass is that it will require the least care because the species was bred for or native to your area and climate. These native grasses will also attract beneficials and tend to be deer resistant as well. “Native” can be a narrow term (meaning plants original to your area) or broad (meaning plants native to a state, country or continent). The best way to “meet the locals” or, the native grasses for your area, and to determine what will grow where you live, is to consult your local extension office. A master gardener or your local nursery will also be helpful. These experts will be equipped to advise you regarding the best options for your growing region.
Horticulturalists recommend purchasing native ornamental grass as a spring transplant from a local nursery rather than starting from seed. Or, ask a friend for a division. Water the transplant well in the beginning. After ensuring a good start, you can pretty much let nature take over from there. Ornamental grasses really need little care once they are established and are drought tolerant. This also means they reduce the need for water and chemicals. After several years the grass may begin to die in the center, indicating it is time to divide it.
Be aware that a non-invasive ornamental grass in one area of the country may be considered an invasive species in another and undesirable to plant because it can overtake the naturally growing foliage.
Grass seems like such an ordinary thing to plant, but consider that when early explorers first came upon the vast prairies covered in lush grasses that moved with the wind like waves on the ocean, they deemed the Great Plains a “sea of grass.” They can be beautiful. Unlike lawns, ornamental grasses aren’t grown to be cut but rather allowed to grow to their full height to reveal their flashy foliage.
Ornamental grasses fill many roles in the garden and landscape. They can be a canvas or backdrop for more colorful flower varieties. Their textures and leaf colors can complement other foliage in your landscape or garden. Their presence adds movement and interest throughout the year. There are so many variations to choose from, here are some things to consider:
Color – The color variations in grasses are usually subtle and ranging from neutral to hints of yellow, blue-green, purple, pinks and reds. Determine if you want your grasses to provide that backdrop – say a spray of tan or ochre behind a pop of crimson or other brightly colored annual or perennial. Or maybe you want the grass itself to be the feature. Like many species, they can also change color throughout the seasons so be sure to take that into account in your selection.
Texture – One appeal of ornamental grasses is their flower heads in the fall and winter. These flower heads come in all shapes and sizes and sit atop a variety of blades as well, ranging from thin to wide, variegated or plain. Some of the flowers create a fuzzy tuft, like an Impressionist painting. Others are more distinct.
Height – Ornamental grasses also come in a wide variety of heights to suit perfectly the space you want to fill, from just a few inches to upwards of 9 feet tall. They also vary widely in their ability to spread.
Movement and Sound – Two unexpected advantages of ornamental grass are the movement and sound they can add to a garden or landscape. The taller the grass of course the more significant the movement. The rustle of the moving grass can be stunning, as well as the tinkling of seed pods together.
Grasses (Some specific types)
Pennsylvania Sedge – short clusters spread slowly to form thick carpet
Blue Fescue – low, mounding grass (8”) with distinctive blue-green leaves
Muhly grass – delightful 1-3 feet tall grass that creates fluffy pink clouds
Northern Oat Grass – 3-4 feet tall grass that produces flat oat seed heads in the fall that make a sound in a breeze
Japanese Silver Grass – 3-6 feet, clumps that form a “spray,” with pink or red flowers
Karl Forester Reed Grass – one of the reed grasses that is well regarded, 4-5 feet tall with cluster of foliage at the top