Why use ornamental grasses in your landscape design when you can fill it full of lush shrubs and colorful perennials? The reasons seem nearly endless: ornamental grasses are low maintenance, easy to grow, offer year-round interest, add textural interest, are wildlife-friendly, and are often drought-tolerant. Even with all of those stand-out reasons, it's really the soft, gentle movement brought on by even a slight wind that makes them a must-have.
Grasses are one of the most useful types of plants you can use in your garden; here are five landscape design ideas to get you started, plus lots of beautiful grasses to achieve your favorite look. Click on the photos to learn more about the grasses featured, and let us know your favorite grasses by tagging us on social media @MonroviaPlants.
Top 5 Ways to Use Ornamental Grasses in Landscape Design
1. Add Year-Round Color and Texture to the Garden
It's easy to love the emerging spring foliage and breezy movement of ornamental grasses, and they're a true team player in summer as they can fade into the background to allow other, more colorful plants to shine. By late summer to early autumn, most of us find that our colorful gardens are fading. This is when ornamental grasses take center stage as feathery or frothy plumes begin to change color, as does the foliage.
Layer grasses into your beds and borders to keep the show going into fall. We recommend leaving them unpruned to feed and shelter birds through winter, as well as add year-round textural interest until early spring, when you should prune them back to allow new growth to flourish.
Prized for its unmatched foliage color. Green leaves that emerge with red tips in spring, darken through summer, and turn a rich burgundy in fall. Airy reddish pink flowers develop in summer. 4' tall, 3' wide in bloom. Zones 4-9.
Graceful, silvery-green arching foliage becomes a whirl of orange, gold, and burgundy in fall. Reaches up to 5' tall, 3' wide. Zones 6-9.
2. Use Tall Grasses as a Privacy Screen
Naturalistic and meadow-like plantings continue to be a trend (though timeless designs never do go out of style, do they?), which has extended to using taller grasses for hedges and screens. And, why not? They’re fast-growing, many are waterwise once established, and need very little maintenance. Just cut down annually and divide every few years. If year-round privacy is critical, plant something evergreen behind them.
Prized for its handsome fall flowers, this perennial grass is wind and drought tolerant and provides a showy windbreak or screen. Up to 5' tall, 6' wide; plumes reach up to 10' tall. Zones 7-11. Not sold in CA.
3. Use Shorter Grasses as Groundcover
Rock gardens, sunny slopes, dry shade, waterwise lawns, fronts of borders, no-fuss pathway edgings—the list goes on for the many beautiful uses of shorter ornamental grasses like sedge, blue fescue, mondo grass, and other compact grass options. Want something frothy, rather than flat, that’s easy to care for and generally tidy? That's when to use these very useful sorts of grasses. The point here is to let them do their thing, so plant where they’ll be allowed to spill, and put away the edgers and string trimmers.
Forms a compact, easy-care, low mound that is perfect for massing. The ribbon-like foliage has white edges and adds wonderful texture to part sun to full shade spaces. Up to 15" tall, 24" wide. Zones 5-9.
Exceptionally icy blue coloration holds up even through the heat of summer. Buff-colored plumes create contrast in summer. Perfect for mass planting and edging borders in drought-tolerant landscapes. Up to 1' tall and wide. Zones 4-11.
Brought to Monrovia by plant explorer Dan Hinkley, this unique species from Taiwan slowly spreads to form a small, dense patch in part to full shade conditions, making it perfect for planting in tough spots like under trees. Up to 6" tall, 3' wide. Zones 7-9.
4. Plant Grasses "en Masse" to Add Drama
A single ornamental grass as a focal point or planted in a large pot can be a stunning addition to any landscape, but if you have the space and really want to make an impact, plant them in masses. A sea of grasses, whether of different varieties, heights, and textures or a dense grouping of a single variety is a powerful visual treat and an effective, low-maintenance way of dealing with large areas.
Mass this lush, easy-to-grow, adaptable grass to add summer color and fall interest to the garden. Up to 4' tall. Zones 6-9.
5. Soften Pathways and Hardscapes with Grasses
Need to take the edge off a retaining wall, light post, water feature, stone pathway, sidewalk, patio, or mailbox? Want to hide an air conditioner or other ugly utility but still keep it accessible? Grasses can soften the impact of these hard materials.
Pay careful attention to the ultimate height and width when using grasses in these applications; you don’t want to be fighting with the wrong plant, cutting it back to fit the space.
The most dwarf of the fountain grasses with fluffy, buff-colored blooms that add soft texture when planted in mass along pathways and other hardscapes. Drought tolerant when established. Up to 12" tall and wide. Zones 4-9.
A favorite for brightening and softening the edges of retaining walls, pathways, ponds, and more. Golden yellow leaves provide a colorful accent, even in lightly shaded areas. Slowly naturalizes by spreading roots. Up to 10" tall, 6" wide. Zones 5-11.
Breezy and dense, this sedge makes an exceptional choice massed as cover ground or forming low border against a walkway. Up to 1' tall. Zones 5-9
Cool vs. Warm Season Grasses
Cool season grasses emerge in early spring going dormant in early summer. Warm season grasses grow in summer continuing until a hard freeze. Combine both types for a grassy show of at least six months. Plant cool season types in front of warm season ones; as the early grasses go dormant, they’ll reveal the later varieties.
About Invasive Grasses
Some grasses can be invasive in certain regions of the country, so it’s important to be aware of what’s appropriate for your particular area. A grass that can be invasive in one climate can be perfectly acceptable in another climate or region. Monrovia takes its responsibility to protect local ecosystems seriously and will never ship plants of any kind to regions where they are considered invasive. Consult your local independent garden center for more information.