What makes ornamental grass ornamental?
First, this is not the grass we normally refer to as functional grass or grass that you can walk on. By contrast, ornamental grass is not meant to be mowed or tread upon.
Second, ornamental grasses are used to form a stage on which the yard's actors (flowers, shrubs, hardscapes, etc.) play their roles. It is meant to be attractive.
Ornamental grasses are easy to grow and make great hedge plants. Grasses also are a perfect complement to sun perennial gardens and fast-growing evergreen shrubs and trees.
Ornamental grasses often are mixed with flowers and shrubs to fill planting beds, creating diversity in terms of form and texture. When forming these planting beds, it is best to layer the plants, placing the tallest in the back, shortest in the front and everything else in the middle.
Ornamental grasses prefer well-drained soil and full sun. When planting, space the grass, giving the area as much width as expected height.
Most gardeners cut back grasses to near ground level when it becomes unsightly or at winter's end. Lightly fertilize them in the spring and late summer and divide every three to four years. Also, apply mulch around the plant.
There are many types of ornamental grasses. Categorizing them in terms of their heights is an easy way to decide which types will work in a particular garden bed.
Tall ornamental grasses
No fall or winter landscape should be without tall ornamental grass. These grasses can be used as focal points and add charm to the harsh winter landscape.
Two types of tall grasses are plume grass (8-11 feet) and maidengrass (7 feet). The puffy plumes of this plant will provide visual interest to an otherwise barren winter landscape. In the summer, this popular grass displays dark green foliage and rosy plumes.
Intermediate ornamental grasses
Blue oat grass is a good medium-height grass that produces spiky, dark flowers with a bluish tint in summer that turn harvest gold in the fall.
Switch grass is another favorite growing 4 to 5 feet with delicate, airy flowers that appear midsummer. Fall color (straw) persists through the winter.
Short ornamental grasses
Dwarf fountain grass forms dense 2- to 3-foot clumps and has plumes that appear in midsummer and fade to rosy brown in the fall, then eventually to a deep straw color in the winter.
Blue fescue (1-foot-by-1-foot) is a popular drought-tolerant variety that sports blue foliage that complements many surrounding plants, such as a silvery lamb's ear.
Wanda Cannon is a Master Gardener trained through the Hall County program and also serves as Master Gardener coordinator and horticulture assistant for the Hall County Extension office. Phone: 770-535-8293.