While it’s easy to focus on filling our outdoor spaces with show-stopping flowering plants, it’s important to create the right balance between striking blooms, bold foliage and the often overlooked ornamental grasses.
Used well, ornamental grasses can transform any garden or patio spaces and they fit into any planting scheme.
Typically grasses are suited to prairie-style garden schemes, creating a tactile backdrop for wildflowers, but can enhance contemporary displays too. Try contrasting modern planting arrangements with soft grass forms, or compliment the plant selection with sharp, bold, up-right varieties.
Ornamental grasses offer a broad range of sizes to choose from, including compact forms that are perfect for the front of borders or dressing containers, to mid and tall varieties that hold their own as focal points within the garden. Gardeners can also get creative with the wide variety of colour options available, including jet blacks, icy blues, vibrant greens, autumnal oranges and reds. Look out for variegated varieties for added interest.
When considering where to plant ornamental grasses, consider using them to divide spaces or even to cover unsightly areas. The mass of slender leaves will create an illusion of screening without being a harsh separation. Alternatively enjoy the sensory benefits of ornamental grasses by planting close to seating areas. The leaves create a soothing rustle when blown by a gentle breeze.
While grasses are at the best during the summer months, some varieties are more notably striking in the autumn and winter seasons for their decorative seedheads.
Location & Sunlight
Generally ornamental grasses do best when planted in an open, sunny location, directly in the ground or in a container but this can vary between varieties. There will be a variety to suit most locations.
If planting into a container, fill with a mix of multi-purpose compost and a loam-based compost such as John Innes. No 2. This will have a lighter consistency which will benefit the plant.
Planting time is dependant on the climate of the place of origin for each species. For plants such as Miscanthus and Pennisetum that originate from warmer locations, late spring is the ideal time to plant. For cooler climate species such as Stipa, Deschampsia and Festuca plant in the autumn.
Plants from cooler climates will grow during late winter, then flower in mid-summer as opposed to plants from warmer climates that will grow during the later spring months and flower from late summer-early autumn.
Feeding & Watering
As with any container display, ensure watering is sufficient during the hotter months and add a general-purpose feed from mid spring – mid autumn.
Ornamental grasses tend to be fairly drought tolerant so those that are planted directly in the ground can cope with dry spells after their first year, in which time, the plant should be consistently watered. They will only need one application of a general-purpose fertilizer in the spring. Any additional feeding will encourage lush foliage and hamper flowering.
Generally ornamental grasses require very little maintenance once established. Cut off any damaged foliage and remove any dead leaves as you see them to ensure the plant looks tidy.
In the autumn season, dress the soil around the plant with a generous layer of mulch to suppress weeds. Otherwise weeds are rarely an issue for these clump-forming plants.
Cut back deciduous varieties close to the ground during the late winter months. Although the plant will be ready for cutting back once the foliage turns straw-like in the autumn, it’s advised to leave the plant for native wildlife to utilise as shelter through the colder months and for the seedheads to supplement the diet of wild birds’.
Evergreen varieties can be spruced up in the spring, simply by removing any spent seedheads and damaged or dead foliage.
Older plants will benefit from being lifted and divided. This will promote healthy growth and vigour.
For cool-season grasses, divide in late winter or early spring and for warm-season grasses divide in late spring.
Pests & Problems
Some varieties of ornamental grasses can attract voles or rabbits. Look for signs that the plant has been eaten. In the case of rabbit or vole damage, try protecting the plant with fencing wire or plant guards. For our full range of animal deterrents and pest control, visit our Garden Care Departments.
Alternatively, consider planting varieties such as Miscanthus which rabbits will not eat.
Tell-tale rust-coloured patches will appear on the leaves of the plant once infected with the fungal disease. By ensuring a healthy environment for the plant the chance of Rust is reduced. This can be done through adequate spacing of plants to allow airflow around the base of the plant.
Lack of Flowers
Excessive feeding can promote foliage growth at the expense of flowering. Alternatively, a lack of light can cause the reduction of flowers produced, so ensure that the plant has sufficient light and is not overshadowed by any neighbouring plants.