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GardenSMART :: 5 Uses for Ornamental Grasses in Your Garden

5 Uses for Ornamental Grasses in Your Garden

By Susan Martin for Proven Winners
Photographs courtesy of Proven Winners

As a home gardener, you might find it easy to decide where to plant a new hydrangea or set a pretty pot of annual flowers, but figuring out where to use ornamental grasses can be a bit more challenging. Plopping one down in the middle of your flower bed might look out of place, but add a few more by its side and it all starts to come together.

Designing with ornamental grasses isn't always intuitive, so seeing examples can spark an idea you can implement at home. We'll show you some of our favorite ways to use Proven Winners annual and perennial grasses here.

Grasses as a Focal Point

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This plain patio wall went from drab to fab with the addition of two spectacular planters featuring purple fountain grass flanking the sides of an ornate table dressed for fall.

It's time to decorate your patio for fall! You'll find Graceful Grasses® purple fountain grass is plentiful at garden centers this time of year. Its 3-foot tall, arching foxtail-like panicles add graceful texture, height and movement to containers and garden beds. This is an annual grass you'll want to replant each year.

In this scene, the combination of tall planters filled with impressively statured grasses and a gorgeous iron table create a focal point along a stone wall which borders a patio. The softly textured grasses soften the look of the hard stone and create a warm, inviting feeling in this outdoor living space that is used frequently for entertaining. Shorter grasses would not have had such an effect—their height is essential in this design.

Grasses as a Fall Accent

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Graceful Grasses® 'Fireworks' fountain grass is tucked in among fall-toned Superbells and Supertunias in this creative arrangement.

Whereas the large grasses were the focal point in the example above, here we've used grasses as a strappy, textural accent paired with the more mounded Supertunia® Honey™ and Black Cherry® petunias and Superbells® Tropical Sunrise calibrachoa.

To make this planter, start by stacking your pumpkins or gourds on top of the soil in the center of a whiskey barrel. Surround them with bamboo or willow branches tied at the top with wired twine. Using flowers and grasses you've purchased in 4-inch pots, remove them from their pots and tuck them in along the edges of the barrel, alternating colors as you go. If you can only find 1-gallon size grasses at the store, divide them in half so their rootball will be easier to tuck in between the flowers. Add a few more pumpkins and gourds at the base of the barrel to complete the look.

Grasses in the Mixed Border

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Native perennial grasses like Prairie Winds® 'Totem Pole' switch grass look right at home in mixed borders like this one which is filled with Lakota™ Fire coneflowers, Invincibelle Mini Mauvette® and Invincibelle Limetta® hydrangeas, and 'Midnight Masquerade' penstemons.

If you're not totally satisfied with the way your garden bed looks, check to see if you're missing the key elements of height or varied textures. Ornamental grasses like switch grass check both boxes, offering 3 to 6 feet of height and slender leaves that contrast beautifully with broader leaved perennials and shrubs.

In this mixed border filled with native cultivars of colorful perennials and shrubs, we selected a native switch grass to add height, texture and movement to the grouping. Without the addition of this grass, the planting would look "flat," with most plants being of the same size and texture. Ornamental grasses can be pivotal in the design of a garden bed.

Grasses as a Living Screen

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Large-scale annual and perennial grasses can be an attractive alternative to costly wood or vinyl fencing. 

There are many situations that call for a fence or screen in our gardens. Perhaps you wish to obscure a view of something unsightly or add privacy around an outdoor seating area. Maybe your goal is to create a friendly boundary between your property and the neighbors. Whatever the need, there's an ornamental grass that's up to the task.

In this scene, the homeowner needed to create a temporary screen to block the view from the street that looked directly into his backyard. Since he planned to make extensive garden renovations the following year, he chose a very fast-growing, large-scale annual grass called Graceful Grasses® Vertigo® to create a screen for the season. When he was ready to start construction on the garden the following spring, these annual grasses were simple to remove. If you prefer a permanent screen, choose a hardy perennial grass from our Prairie Winds® collection instead.

Grasses for Water Gardens

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Select types of ornamental grasses you may have used in your container recipes are also suitable for growing in water. This patio-sized water garden contains Graceful Grasses® Baby Tut®, fiber optic grass and Blue Mohawk® soft rush.

Many ornamental grasses are extremely adaptable to challenging growing conditions; some can even grow in standing water. Cyperus grass, rushes and fiber optic grass are all commonly used in annual containers paired with colorful flowers where they adapt to average soil moisture. But they'll also thrive at the water's edge, in muddy soils and even submerged in water.

To grow these kinds of grasses in water, set them in a pot on a ledge just inside the pond's edge or up on a support in a patio-sized water garden. Make sure the crown of the plant isn't submerged but most of the pot is under water. The idea is to keep the majority of the rootball wet. These grasses are also one of few plants that will thrive in containers that don't have a hole in the bottom. It's impossible to over-water these waterhogs! 

Want to learn more about ornamental grasses?

  • Explore our entire collection of annual and perennial grasses.
  • Learn more about designing with ornamental grasses in this article.
  • See dozens of container recipes using ornamental grasses here.

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Patent Info: Graceful Grasses® 'Fireworks' Pennisetum 'Rubrum' USPP18504; Supertunia® Honey™ Petunia USPP26888 US Utility 7642436B2; Supertunia® Black Cherry® Petunia USPP27312 Can5279 US Utility 7642436B2; Superbells® Tropical Sunrise Calibrachoa USPP29029 CanPBRAF; Prairie Winds® 'Totem Pole' Panicum USPPAF CanPBRAF; Invincibelle Mini Mauvette® Hydrangea USPP30358 CanPBRAF; Invincibelle Limetta® Hydrangea USPP30431 CanPBRAF; 'Midnight Masquerade' Penstemon USPP29603 CanPBRAF; Graceful Grasses® Vertigo® Pennisetum USPP22254 CanPBRAF

Contributor Bio: Susan Martin is an avid zone 6 gardener, garden writer and speaker who enjoys spreading her passion for plants to her fellow gardeners across North America.



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