There's an ornamental grass for every garden

July 19, 2007
Ornamental grasses may be one of the most underutilized of plants for the landscape. These are versatile, easy-to-grow plants that come in a wide selection of sizes, shapes and colors.

Although these ornamentals are not all true grasses, they all exhibit slender strap-like leaves which add considerable textural contrast to other plantings with large rounded or scalloped leaves or plants with rounded forms including many of our favorite flowering plants.

I have spider plant, Chlorophytum comosum 'Variegatum' planted in the yard that never looked as healthy and attractive as it does in the ground.

Ornamental grasses can be as small as several inches like the Dwarf Japanese sweet flag or as large as 20 feet high like the giant reed. They can be of mounding, tufted or upright form and may also exhibit a combined upright and mounding form. Colors include red, bronze, blue, gray, gold and - of course - green. Some have variegated leaves with more than one color.

Ornamental grasses produce large numbers of inconspicuous flowers that are wind pollinated and that do not attract insects for pollination. Their large numbers of tiny flowers and the resulting seeds form attractive clusters called an inflorescence. This is a prized feature of many ornamental grasses. Some produce unique fan shaped flower and seed structures.

Before selecting an ornamental grass, care should be taken to understand the needs and growth habit of your selection. Unless you are selecting for ground cover, you should choose a non-invasive clumping variety. Creeping species reproduce through aboveground stolons or below ground rhizomes. These are useable for ground covers, and can be valuable for small or hard-to-mow plots such as slopes. Most prefer full sun, but there are some shade lovers. Most prefer little to moderate moisture.

Generally ornamental grasses require little care except cutting back warm season species in the spring.

Divide and flourish
The Texas Cooperative Extension Service recommends dividing ornamental grasses every several years to keep them looking their best.

For step-by-step instructions on how to divide plants, refer to a previous article written and published in this column on Oct. 27, 2005.
Click on the article that specifically addresses dividing clumping plants like grasses.

Ornamental grasses are best planted in the spring. Do not over-fertilize them. This can cause rapid growth and floppy leaves.
PHOTOS BY BRICE PAVLISH, Victoria County Master Gardener
Ornamental grasses provide shape and texture in landscape design. In front of the DeLeon Plaza flagpoles in downtown Victoria are Hamlin dwarf fountain grass in the forefront and Rubrum purple fountain grass reaching above the hedge. While they do well in direct sunlight and require little moisture, these varieties have endured Victoria's recent rains and muggy heat.
Planted in partial shade, the variegated Dianiella (flax lily), which looks like an oversized airplane plant, and varieties of liriope soften the bed surrounding the large oak tree in the front yard of Brice Pavlish, master gardener.
Use them fully

What kind of ideas do we have to take advantage of these ornamentals? How about that favorite garden seating area?

Proper location of a taller variety can provide attractive fencing or privacy screening or yield a very dramatic planting when back-lighted by the rising or setting sun.

But I really want a water fountain for my seating area! How about planting one of the upright fountain-shaped species in a tall container as a fountain substitute.

But I have a very small back yard! Think about a container planting of ornamental grass with a selection of your favorite flowers. Some of these plants are eye catching and make excellent single highlight plants to accent your more traditional plantings.

New plantings of ornamental grasses can be seen at the Victoria County Master Gardener's' Victoria Educational Gardens (VEG) located at the Victoria Regional Airport across from the old control tower. All plants are labeled at VEG for your ease of gaining knowledge. More information can also be found by searching at

There are hundreds of varieties to choose from, however, I listed some possibilities in the accompanying table. Varieties marked with an asterisk can be seen at VEG. Others are planted in both public and private garden locations around town. Check out the fountain grasses in front of the DeLeon Plaza flagpoles in downtown Victoria.

There are varieties out there that could be just right to energize your garden. It's worth the effort to check.

The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas Cooperative Extension-Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, Texas 77901; or, or comment on this column at
July 19, 2007
*Acorus gramineus Dwarf sweet flag green moist sun 5"
*Festuca glauca Elijah Blue, fescue blue avg. sun 6"
*Lirope muscari Pee Dee Ingot, lilyturf gold avg. shade 8"
*Festuca idahoensis Siskiyou Blue, fescue blue avg. sun 8"
*Carex comans Bronze, hair sedge bronze avg. lt. shade 12"
*Phalaris arundinacea Dwarf Garters green moist sun 12"
*Uncinia uncinata Rubra, hook sedge red moist sun 12"
*Imperata cylindrica Red Baron, blood grass red moist sun 18" koenigii
*Helictotrichon oat grass blue avg. sun 18" sempervirens
*Hakonchloa macra Aureola golden Hakone gold moist shade 24"
*Pennisetum Karley Rose, green moist sun 24" alopecuroides' fountain grass
*Miscanthus sinensis Autumn Red Maiden red (fall) avg. sun 24" v. purpurascens Hair Grass, Purple Flame Grass
*Pennisetum Moudry, fountain grass green moist sun 24"
*Pennisetum Hamlin, fountain grass green moist sun 24" alopecuroides*Calamagrosis x acutiflora Karl Foerster grass, green moist sun 36" feather reed
*Cortaderia selloana Dwarf pampas grass green moist sun 36"
*Phalaris arundinacea Picta, gardener's garters variegated moist sun 36"
*Panicum virgatum Dallas Blues, switch grass green avg. sun 48"
*Pennisetum setaceum Rubrum, purple moist sun 48" purple fountain grass
*Miscanthus sinensis Variegata, variegated avg. sun 60" Japanese silver grass
*Miscanthus sinensis Strictus, porcupine grass variegated avg. lt. shade 72"
*Panicum virgatum 'Cloud Nine', switch grass gray avg. lt. shade 72"