Gain Texture and Variety
with Ornamental Grasses

by Donna Kauffman

Local gardens do not make use of ornamental grasses nearly enough.  Grasses need practically no attention and when they are used in the right location, can stand for years, giving striking shows of graceful stalks.  Native grasses are a favorite of mine.   In the Autumn, when seed heads occur, I always resolve to use even more grasses in my landscape designs.

Pampas grass is probably the most popular native grass.  It is a rare specimen --  8 to 20 feet tall at maturity.  Female plants have silvery plumes one to three feet in length.  Put this plant where it will have plenty of room to grow.  Use pampas grass to soften utility boxes and define distant corners.  Be sure you leave enough space -- anything within fifteen feet of the plant will ultimately vanish.

Miscanthus is occasionally seen in landscapes.  It grows to 10 feet and has a feathery flower late in the summer.  Zebra grass is a Miscanthus with a stripe down the center of the leaf.  These grasses will spread to four feet at maturity.

Pennisetum are much smaller -- only about four feet tall.  The flowers resemble foxtail grass.  The red variety is commonly  known as purple fountain grass.  Purple fountain grass is not always winter hardy so bringing it indoors over the winter allows for division & protection.

Ribbon grass has stripes and grows much lower than the grasses mentioned above.  It needs full sun and poor soil.  It is quite invasive if it gets out of bounds, but it makes a nice ground cover in controlled areas.  Phalaris is another name for ribbon grass.

Blue Fescue grows as a low clump and is a blue-grey color.  Its color helps to reflect heat.  Arranged in a pattern at an entry way or patio, Blue Fescue lasts for years.

Umbrella Plant is a tropical that loves wet feet.  It gets its name from the leaves that are in sheaths arranged in an umbrella form.

Another grass that loves the wet areas is the Cattail.  If you have a wet area in your landscape plant some native Cattails, but remember they are invasive.

My all-time favorite in ornamental grass is the nostalgic Texas Blue Stem.  It is an important forage for cattle and can be found along the ditches and uninhabited fields in the Mid-cities area.  The plant sends up rose-brown spikes which will last through the winter.  About the only way to grow Texas Blue Stem  is to dig up some existing clumps.  Being a native, it grows in full sun, needing no extra watering.

All grasses can be propagated by division, are spreaders in habit, and require full sun.  Allow grasses to be ornamental by giving them plenty of room to mature and in return they will lend a soft, graceful effect to your landscape.