Ornamental grasses haven’t been so popular since the Victorian Age. Dozens of ornamental grasses are now available, and new forms are being added each year. The reasons for this astonishing rise in popularity appear to centre around the practical, as well as the aesthetic merits of ornamental grasses. As the public becomes more environmentally aware, and learns more about low maintenance plants and sustainable landscapes, ornamental grasses that can tolerate extremes of drought and wetness are eagerly sought. Ornamental grasses are also a part of the growing popularity of water gardening, as transitional elements between dry land and water.
Ornamental grasses serve many functions in the landscape. Ornamental grass foliage catches the wind, adding a sense of motion to the landscape. The native prairies of the Midwest were often described as an inland sea. Tall grasses also rustle in the wind, adding sound as a new dimension to the landscape. In a border, grasses can be used as edging or background plants, while larger specimens can be accent plants or screens. Rhizome- and stolon-forming grasses stabilize banks or serve as ground cover. Diminutive species can be utilized in rock gardens. Combining grasses with woody or herbaceous perennial plants, such as shrub roses or Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, help create a beautiful and enduring, low input, sustainable landscape. The dried foliage and flowers of many ornamental grasses are attractive and sway with the wind throughout the cold winter months. Many are excellent for use in floral arrangements.
Although a few grasses tolerate shade, most require full sun. Some grasses or grasslike plants tolerate wet soils, but more require a well-drained soil. To become drought and pest resistant, plants require a suitable root zone. In compacted soils, even the root systems of the most drought-tolerant plants will not develop. Incorporate organic matter into the root zone to improve water-holding capacity and oxygen levels. Adequate organic matter will develop a soil with sufficient pore size to readily release water. The improved root zone will allow for maximum root expansion and water extraction from the soil. Improving the soil also will reduce irrigation frequency. Your investment in soil improvement will be returned in fewer maintenance problems and more attractive, longer-lived plants.