Ornamental grasses are becoming more endearing especially as water restrictions and drought-prone areas press their case against our gardens. It wasn’t that long ago that many gardeners would steer clear of these ‘weedy’ grasses and opt for flowers and ornamental perennials.

But, times are changing and what was once determined as unworthy for the home garden is rapidly becoming a popular import. Gardeners are replacing their non-indigenous botanicals for native grasses and enjoying the benefits of low-maintenance weed-suppressing plants. And, we’re not limited by variety or colour, shape or texture as many of our predecessors have been.

Ornamental grasses have copped some bad publicity over the years, and it’s not entirely unjustified. In some states of Australia and the US, several species reside on the noxious weed lists and have been banned from being grown in home gardens.

The reason: they are incredible propagators.

This is both an advantage as much as it is a disadvantage. If you consider that most of our cereal grains; barley, wheat, oats, rice and corn are all members of the grass (Poaceae) family you can quickly understand that if they weren’t great producers of seed we would be very hungry people.

Types of Ornamental Grass

GENUS COMMON NAME
Agropyron Wheat Grass
Arundo donax Giant Reed, Spanish Cane
Briza media Quaking Grass
Cortaderia Pampas Grass
Cymbopogon Lemon Grass
Eragrostis Love Grass
Erianthus Ravenna Grass, Elephant Grass
Elymus Common Wheat Grass, Quackgrass, Rye Grass
Imperator Japanese Blood Grass
Isolepsis Fiber Optic Grass
Juncus Corkscrew Rush, Poverty Rush
Lagurus Rabbit’s Tail Grass
Miscanthus Zebra Grass, Chinese Silver Grass
Molinia Moor Grass
Nassella Needle Grass
Pannicum Switch Grass, Millet
Pennisetum Fountain Grass
Phalaris Ribbon Grass
Schizachyrium Little bluestem
Sorghastrum Indian Grass

How to Grow Ornamental Grasses

Most ornamental grasses reside in full sun, having spent most of their existence in savannas, tundras and coastal plains. Understanding their origins help explain the types of soil they prefer, opting for sandy soils over loams and clay.

They don’t need copious amounts of rainfall or watering to exist and can easily survive extended periods of drought. This is why they do so well in xeriscape gardens and those created to be drought-tolerant.

It’s best not to grow grasses with high water-dependent plants as either the grass will struggle with excessive moisture or the water needy will suffer from not enough. Group ornamental grasses with succulents, cacti and grey-foliage plants for their best rate of survival.

Propagating Ornamental Grasses

This is by far one of the easiest plant families to propagate after succulents. The most effective method is via collecting seed and distributing in situ. Some, like the Japanese Blood Grass, can be divided and propagated this way which can be just as successful but takes more effort.

The problem with grasses is not their ability to propagate but that they are so successful at it. You may find yourself weeding more often if you don’t want them to spread beyond their boundaries.