Ornamental grasses, in my opinion are the unsung heroes in the landscape. They can serve so many functions, I can’t imagine a garden without them!
The ornamental grass category are often overlooked and upstaged by the showy and crazy colors of the flowers that are usually planted in front of them – and rightly so, flowers are beautiful!
But what most don’t realize is that without a reliable and complimentary background, the flowers don’t live up to their full potential in the garden. Their visual impact is lessened without their steady and supportive cast of ornamental grasses.
I’ve picked a few of my favorites to talk about, but first, let’s talk about what Ornamental Grasses actually are!
This fountain grass has bright green foliage and beautiful white and purple flowers!
What are Ornamental Grasses?
Ornamental grasses are actually grasses, but they don’t grow short like turf grasses. They are an ornamental plant (thus the name!) and have qualities about it that stand out in their environment.
These special grasses can be as short as a foot in height and some can grow much taller! There are many colors featured in the Ornamental Grasses families, which means there’s something for everyone.
The can be used for many things, including:
- Covering up something in the yard that is better not seen, like well pumps, ugly fences, or air conditioning units
- Dividing areas of the landscape into their own visual “rooms” to accentuate the plantings
- Border plantings to accentuate the borders of a flower or other landscape bed
- Backdrops for annuals, other perennials, and even vegetable gardens
- Standalone accents – the center feature of a landscape plan!
Here’s some of my favorites!
Purple Fountain Grass is majestic!
Favorite Ornamental Grasses #1: Fountain Grass
Fountain Grass, or what I have called “Bunny Grass” since I was 4 years old, is a wonderful feature in any garden. Long thin blades of grass that can be many shades of green, red, and more are present for most of the year, with beautiful “fluffy” flowers that range from white to deep purple from August to October, truly make a statement.
Most Fountain Grass grows 3′ x 3′, some up to 5′. They get their name by the way the grasses grow straight up, and then lay over, like a waterfall shape. This makes them a nifty feature in the garden, especially when the wind gives the grass blades and the bobbing flowers movement and intrigue.
Fun facts about Fountain Grass:
- Full Sun – needs minimum 6 hours a day full sun and bright sun during the other hours to bloom properly.
- Fountain Grass provides shelter and food for birds and wildlife.
- The flowers last a long time and make great cut flowers too.
- They are a staple Fall foliage
- Once established, Fountain Grass is drought resistant and will usually not need any more than what the rain provides!
- We have red Fountain Grass in stock right now at Shell’s! (quantities are limited)
Muhly grass is magical in the sunlight!
Favorite Ornamental Grasses #2: Muhly Grass
Another gorgeous grass for the landscape, Muhly grass, a Florida native ornamental grass, is a showstopper during the Fall season. The flowers range from pink to purple, and they form on thin stalks above the foliage, and are so lacy that they look like a cloud hovering over the plant. It’s truly magical!
This grass is great in the full sun but will tolerate partial sun as well. It is a warm weather plant and will brown as the weather gets cooler, and Winter is the time to cut the foliage to about 2-3″ and mulch over the remaining mound, as they need a period of rest before the Spring.
A fully grown and established Muhly Grass “clump” is about 3′ x 3′, and if they’re spaced about 18″ apart they will form a nice “edge” or mass planting. Definitely amend the soil with organic material, and mulch too. Once these plants are established you’ll only need to give it a little fertilizer 3 times a year, the rain will water it for you.
Fun Facts about Muhly Grass:
- Works great as a border planting when very fine and delicate foliage would work well.
- It’s a great ground cover for dry areas
- Caterpillars may feed on the foliage during the growing season, but it won’t affect the plant.
- They’re native to Florida!
- They provide shelter for wildlife and birds
- The flowers last a long time
- It’s in stock right now at Shell’s (limited quantities)!
About as maintenance free as it gets, Mondo grass is a great low-growing plant in the landscape.
Favorite Ornamental Grasses #3: Mondo Grass
Mondo grass isn’t actually a grass at all. It’s part of the lily family. But I didn’t disqualify it from my list just for that tiny factoid. It looks enough like grass that I felt it has a place right here.
Once established, mondo grass doesn’t need much. It can handle sun or shade. It can handle rain-only watering. It doesn’t really need fertilizer. It’s low growing (6-10″) so will never need trimming. It’s called a “lilyturf” because it could be used as a turf grass that would never need to be mowed.
Great uses and fun facts about Mondo grass:
- Often called Monkey grass, which is associated with liriope…which is an entirely different plant! It’s very strange.
- This plant makes an excellent border plant for garden beds, or to cover land that you don’t want to mow.
- You can divide the clumps of Mondo grass to make more clumps as they grow – make a division about every 3 years.
- The only thing it cannot handle is drought conditions, it will need at least rain to sustain itself.
- In the Summer, Mondo grass has a purple to white flower stalk that will develop into a dark colored fruit.
- It’s one of the few plants that can even take deer damage.
- It’s in stock at Shell’s as of the writing of this article (limited quantities).
Purple lovegrass looks like the product of a fountain grass and muhly grass marriage. Lacy flowers form halos around strappy foliage! Photo from our friends at Wilcox Nursery and Landscape in Largo!
Favorite Ornamental Grasses #4: Purple Lovegrass
Purple Lovegrass has the perfect name for a plant that looks like the lovechild of fountain and muhly grasses! I think it should be wearing Lennon-esque round glasses and pontificating about peace and love…yeah, I know, I’m silly.
But you have to admit, as far as looks go, it’s a great mix of the great features of fountain and muhly grass – the strappy leaves of bladed fountain and the lacy cloud-like flowers of muhly. Planted in succession, they make a bold and beautiful (get it? Soap Opera? Love Child?) statement.
Purple Lovegrass has a slightly smaller footprint than the others, averaging 2′ x 2′, but I have seen them grow bigger in the right conditions. It loves full sun and takes minimal care, benefitting from organic matter in the soil.
Fun facts about Purple Lovegrass:
- Makes a lovely border OR backdrop planting for garden beds
- Blooms in fall and has reddish purple flowers
- Provides food and shelter for birds and wildlife
- It’s drought resistant!
- It’s Native to Florida!
Lopsided Indiangrass has such an intricate flower!
Favorite Ornamental Grasses #5: Lopsided Indiangrass
I know Florida farmers and ranchers often call this wild native grass “wild oats”, because they grow in a similar fashion. With grassy foliage only about 2′ tall, the flower spikes can grow up to 6′!
Planted in groupings, their flowers make an impressive display as they wave in the breeze. They do best in full sun but will tolerate light shade as well.
When you plant these, make sure that there’s plenty of compost and manure in the soil – they do love a good cow pasture – and then mulch. Once established, they require little maintenance, and can survive mostly on rain (water when there’s a drought).
They have a beautiful golden color and work well in landscapes that have gold/yellow colors of other plants in them.
Fun facts about Lopsided Indiangrass:
- They provide food and cover for birds and wildlife.
- The flowers last a long time and make for great cut flowers
- Interesting Fall colors!
- They are Native to Florida!
Pampas grass is an enormously tall ornamental grass – some grow 10′! They come in several colors and they definitely make a statement!
OK, that’s 5 of my favorite ornamental grasses. I hope that it made you think a little about the things you can do with them, the native plants you can introduce into your yard, and the shelter and food you can bring in for our wild garden friends.
Shell’s hasn’t been known in the past for landscape plants, however, now that we’ve expanded our garden center into the alley behind the store, we’ve brought in a few things that can help you accentuate your flowers and vegetables. We hope you’ll come see the changes!
I wish you the best this Spring, and as we go into April now, all the best for the warm weather to come!
Until next time, Keep Growing!
P.S. Want to learn more about plants for Florida? I have some other articles here to check out: