On the Garden Path: Ornamental Grasses

Ornamental grasses serve many landscape functions.

| December 2005

  • ornamental grass

    Photo by Ajale/pixabay

  • ornamental grass

Grasses belong to one of the largest and most varied families in the plant kingdom. Recently, different grass varieties are being incorporated in landscape plantings. Several reasons exist for this trend.

First, ornamental grasses not only beautify the landscape, they also play an important role in conservation. Second, they require lower applications of nitrogen and pesticides. Third, some grasses are so hardy that they tolerate drought, wetness and fluctuating temperatures. Fourth, ornamental grasses are resistant to most diseases and insect pests. Because of these characteristics, gardeners interested in attractive, low-maintenance or sustainable landscapes choose ornamental grasses.

These grasses can be utilized in a variety of ways because they differ in size, shape, color, texture, foliage and seed heads. Heights of mature plants range from 6 inches to 14 or more feet tall. Foliage colors include yellows, greens, blues, reds and browns, as well as a mixture of the colors.

Many ornamental grasses change colors during seasons. For example, fall may produce such colors as yellow, orange, red or purple, enhancing areas with bold contrasts. This will remain during winter, providing color in an otherwise barren landscape.

Ornamental grasses serve many landscape functions. They are known for adding life, motion and sound to gardens. In fact, plantings may resemble an inland sea during windy days, with movements creating rustling sounds. However, because grass covers the surface of the soil, with its roots holding the soil particles together, erosion cannot take place.

These same grasses may also be utilized as edging or backgrounds for other plantings, such as shrub roses or black-eyed Susans, and they are capable of stabilizing banks by serving as ground cover. Some of the shorter grasses work well in rock gardens.

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