Perennial Gardening For Not So Dummies

Ornamental Grasses – Easier To Grow Than Kudzu

Ornamental grasses can reduce your watering costs, lessen your mowing time and increase the interest level of your garden. No matter what your garden’s needs, there’s a grass to solve it. From short ground covers to tall bamboo, there’s something for every site.

Generally defined as “a plant with narrow upright leaves growing from the base,” grasses come in different sizes, shapes, colors and with differing growing requirements. When choosing an ornamental grass for your site, consider the following:


Some grasses are just inches tall. Others, such as bamboo, grow 20’+ tall. A shorter grass is a perfect edge for a walkway. A taller grass provides screening or background height.

Deciduous or Evergreen

The winter form of a grass can be very different from its summer form. Evergreen grasses do not die back in the winter, their form remains the same. Winter colors may change and provide interest. Deciduous grasses die back or lean over. Consider the plant’s use when choosing between deciduous and evergreen. If using a grass as a screen, deciduous may not be a good idea.

Running or Clumping

Clumping grasses stay where planted. The overall plant width increases. However, a running grass sends runners through the ground to grow another grass plant. Sometimes this can be 6’ away. This is advantageous when using the grass as a groundcover. Clumping grasses can be divided if they become too large for the site


Grasses are available in many colors, including variegated. Additionally, many grass colors change throughout the year. Blues, reds, greens, yellow and variegated work well in different situations. A gold or white hued grass can brighten a dark corner. A dark green grass may be a perfect backdrop for smaller colorful plants.

Growing Requirements

Sun, water, wind and soil requirements vary among grasses. Some require full sun; others grow best in the shade. And, of course, there are grasses for every range in between. The same is true for water, wind and soil requirements.

Before going to the garden center to purchase “a grass”, make a list of your requirements. You may want a short grass to line a walkway in full sun with sandy soil. Alternatively, you may need a grass to fill a dry and shady corner. Perhaps you would like to watch a grass clump emerge in the spring, grow to 6′ tall, change colors through the summer and harvest dry seed heads for an autumn arrangement. Choosing the correct grass ensures the beauty and enjoyment of your garden for years to come.

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