By Bonnie L. Grant
Swaying, rustling ornamental grasses add texture, architectural interest and soothing sound to the landscape. There are a host of ornamental grasses widely available at garden centers. The sheer numbers can make choosing an appropriate grass difficult. Here are 10 top choices for excellence, ease of care and maximum impact.
1. Japanese Blood Grass – Like its name implies, Japanese Blood grass has crimson tips on brightly green foliage. While not reliably hardy below USDA zone 6, these plants will renew in warmer regions and grace the garden with ruby tones.
2. Giant Chinese Silver Grass – Giant is the key word here. Chinese Silver grass can approach 8 feet in height with elegant arching leaves. At the end of the season, it produces an inflorescence of 10-inch fluffy white flowers. Japanese Silver grass is a smaller variety.
3. Blue Oat Grass – Blue Oat grass is a tufting form with silvery blue, slender foliage. It gets only 6 to 10 inches in height and has a neat compact form that is low maintenance. After a few years, it does require division to maintain the shape and prevent center die out.
4. Pink Muhly Grass – Think of an airy, blaze of soft pink flowers combined with whimsical foliage and you have a picture of Pink Muhly grass. It is a warm-season, evergreen grass with good drought tolerance.
5. Giant Reed – If you want to mimic wetland ambiance, Giant Reed is an impactful specimen. It may grow 10 to 20 feet tall and has broad bluish-green leaves and a large flower plume in fall. Reed grass can be invasive in some climates but removing the flower plume before it becomes seed can combat that little problem.
6. Pampas Grass – Pampas lends its tropical feel to the landscape while also creating a perfect foil for many other types of foliage. This monster of a grass can become a clump 12 feet tall with a spread of 6 feet around. Huge feathery inflorescences soar over the arching foliage. There are many cultivars, some of which are variegated.
7. Fountain Grass – Pennisetum can become a nuisance grass but its airy elegance makes it all worthwhile. The many cultivars encompass little one foot tall grasses and those up to 3 feet in height. The real showstopper of Fountain grass is the slender brush-like flower heads in hues of cream to blush pink.
8. Mondo Grass – Mondo grass may be variegated, green or even black. It has thick arching, curved foliage and a cute compact form. It is often used as a low border and is lush and easy in groups. Tiny purple inflorescences form at the end of the season.
9. Clumping Bamboo – Yep. Bamboo is a grass. However, beware of non-clumping forms which spread by stolons and can become a nuisance plant. Clumping forms will stay where you want them and bring an Asian air to the garden.
10. New Zealand Flax – Phormium is a family of evergreen, perennial grasses with wide sword-like leaves, a rosette form and a tolerant nature. They work in full sun to partial shade. Expect plants that achieve 4 feet by 4 feet in size.