Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Grasses - not just for lawns anymore!

I went to a seminar this past weekend on ornamental grasses, and that has inspired me to write this next post.   Some of my favorite landscape plants are ornamental grasses.   They give you 11 months of interest with minimal maintenance.  What more could you ask for!   

 Miscanthus Sinensis 'Adagio' tops my list of favorite ornamental grasses.  It grows about 3 feet tall and wide.   It plumes or "flowers" earlier than most Miscanthus grasses, beginning usually in June.    

Adagio's big brother is called 'Gracillimus' (not pictured).  It has similar characteristics, but grows 5 to 6 feet tall and plumes later in the fall. 


Another favorite Miscanthus grass is  'Variegatus.'   It is a large grass, topping out at 5 to 6 feet tall.   The wide foliage is variegated cream and green with pink plumes in October.
The next family of  grasses are the Muhly grasses. This beauty is 'Regal Mist' Muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris), sometimes referred to as Pink Muhly or Gulf Muhly.  This grass grows about    2 1/2 feet tall and 3 feet wide, with an explosion of pink fluffy plumes in October.   

Another Muhly grass, Lindheimer's Muhly (Muhlenbergia lindheimeri), is a native grass that is extremely drought tolerant.  The gray-green foliage stands about 5 feet tall with tan plumes rising above the narrow foliage in late fall.
 Yet another family of ornamental grasses are the Fountain grasses (Pennisetum alopecuroides).   Fountain grasses tend to like a little more water during the growing season, but too much moisture in the winter can cause the root system to rot. A site with excellent drainage is required for success with these grasses.

Black Fountain Grass 'Moudry' grows about 3 feet tall and wide with very large bronze wheat-like plumes (inflorescence) in September. 


'Hameln' Fountain Grass grows about 2 feet tall and wide with small tan wheat-like plumes in September.  


A fountain grass new to me is called 'Karley Rose.'   It grows about 3 feet tall with pink wheat-like plumes.   I just purchased it and have not even had a chance to plant it.      I'm excited to see how it does in my garden.
'Karley Rose' Fountain Grass

And last, but not least, is Mexican Feathergrass (Nasella tenuissima), an extremely drought- tolerant native grass.  It grows about 1 1/2 feet tall and wide, with tan feathery plumes.   In sandy soils this grass can reseed readily.  Excellent drainage is required.

Planting and Maintenance

All of these ornamental grasses need 6 to 8 hours of full sun.   Prepare the planting bed with compost tilled into the native soil.  Add expanded shale in heavy clay soils to enhance drainage (not necessary in sandy soils).    All of these grasses are hardy in our Zone 7/8 gardens.

Pruning tips vary depending on the type of grass.  
  • Miscanthus and Fountain grasses are trimmed down to about 3 inches above the ground in mid-February.  
  • Trim Muhly grasses down to about a foot above the ground in mid-February and "rake" out any old foliage with a 3-prong claw (digger).  
  • Mexican Feathergrass needs no pruning at all, but from time to time "rake" out any old, tattered-looking foliage.

Ornamental grasses add movement, texture, and almost  year-round interest to any garden.  I hope that you will give some of these grasses a try in your garden.   You will be rewarded with their beauty and easy care.

Until next time...enjoy your gardens.

Toni :-)


  1. I would love to try some of these grasses ,I really like all of these!!


  2. I am currently landscaping a section of my garden which is a sunny slope. I want to add some grasses and your post has been very helpful in deciding which species I would like to include. Thank you!

  3. Do you have Ruby Crystals or Pink Crystals grass in you landscape? I thought I saw it here last year. Do you have source for that particular ornamental grass?

    1. Sharrieboberry, I do not have Ruby Crystals or Pink Crystals grass in my landscape. I have the 'Karely Rose' Fountain grass which looks similar, but I believe that Ruby Crystals or Pink Crystals is not cold hardy in the DFW area.