Go for Grasses

Charlie Thigpen - GrassesNot just for the lawn, anymore.

by Charlie Thigpen  

Photography by Chuck St. John


There was a time when using ornamental grasses in a landscape meant planting behemoth pampas grass that grew 10- feet tall and would cut you like a razor when you rubbed against it.  Not anymore. Grasses come in many sizes and colors and have become an integral part of our gardens. If you are looking for plants to add interesting height, texture, and form to your landscape, don’t forget about ornamental grasses.

Why the Popularity?

In all my years as a garden designer, no one has ever asked me to create a high maintenance garden. So, most of my plans include grasses, which are low maintenance, drought tolerant, have few pest problems, and require little pruning. You might have to prune a few of the outer shoots during the growing season to keep them in bounds, and you will need to cut them to the ground in January, but that’s about it.

Where to Grow 

Most ornamental grasses perform best in sunny areas but a few such as low growing Acorus ‘Ogon’ and Carex morrowi, known as variegated sedge grass, will do fine in part shade. Sweeps or masses of 3-foot tall Miscanthus “Adagio” or purple Muhly grass can make a big impact in the landscape and work well to tame sloped areas. Large showy variegated selections of Miscanthus “Zebra Grass” or “Morning Light” can be planted alone as a specimen in the flower border. Dark leafed varieties of Pennisetum “Rubrum,” commonly called purple fountain grass, and “Vertigo” look great with colorful annuals and are often used in large planters as accents.

Year-round Interest 

Grasses look nice and fresh in the spring as they emerge from the ground. As they fill out in the summer months, they create tall arching forms, and in the fall grasses really show their stuff as most will produce beautiful seed heads that sway in the autumn breeze. Once a hard frost has turned them tawny brown these plants still create nice rustling sounds on windy winter days. Grasses have so many attributes, so incorporate them in your garden, and as a bonus, you can use them indoors in floral arrangements. These long leafy plants are easy to maintain, and you’ll enjoy watching them change through the seasons.

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