Ornamental grasses are a beautiful addition to any garden or landscape, adding texture and interest with their feathery plumes and colorful foliage.
But how much sun do these grasses actually need to thrive?
While most prefer full sun, there are some varieties that can tolerate shade.
In this article, we’ll explore the different types of ornamental grasses and their sun requirements, so you can choose the perfect grass for your garden.
Whether you have a sunny spot or a shady corner, there’s an ornamental grass that will flourish in your space.
So let’s dig in and discover the world of ornamental grasses!
How Much Sun Does Ornamental Grass Need
Most ornamental grasses prefer and do best in full sun locations, receiving at least 8 hours of bright sunlight per day. This is especially true for well-established sun-loving grasses, which are drought tolerant and require well-drained soil.
However, there are also a number of grasses and grass-like plants that can provide interest to shaded areas in the garden. Some grass-like sedges and rushes will thrive in moist or even wet soil, while a small number of grasses and grass-like plants can grow in part to full shade.
Many grasses perform well in either partial or full sun, with some good selections being Japanese forest grass or sedge plants. These all need moist soil to thrive but can withstand either full or partial light locations.
One example of an ornamental grass that can tolerate shade is Muhly grass, which is a warm-season ornamental grass that does very well in full sun but can also tolerate shade.
The Benefits Of Ornamental Grass In Your Garden
Ornamental grasses are a versatile and attractive addition to any garden. They provide a variety of benefits, including:
1. Four seasons of interest: Ornamental grasses offer interest and beauty in all four seasons. In the spring and summer, they provide lush foliage and colorful blooms. In the fall, their foliage turns to shades of gold, bronze, and red. Even in winter, ornamental grasses can provide visual interest with their seed heads and snow-covered stalks.
2. Low maintenance: Ornamental grasses are easy to care for and require minimal maintenance. They are mostly free of pests and diseases, making them a great choice for low-maintenance gardens.
3. Adaptable: Ornamental grasses are available for growing zones 3 to 11 and can grow between 6 inches tall up to 6 feet tall! They can be grown in partial sunlight to full sunlight, making them adaptable to many different conditions.
4. Movement: Ornamental grasses create movement in the garden as the wind blows, livening up rather still plants like succulents as well as rock gardens.
5. Privacy: Some ornamental grasses, like fountain grass, can add privacy to your garden with their tall clumps of foliage.
6. Wildlife attraction: Leaving up the seed heads of some ornamental grasses may attract hungry birds in winter.
Understanding The Different Types Of Ornamental Grasses
Ornamental grasses are a large group of plants with varying needs and preferences. They can be broadly categorized into two types: cool-season grasses and warm-season grasses.
Cool-season grasses start growing early in the spring and may remain semi-evergreen over the winter. They tend to do better in cooler temperatures and with sufficient water during drought periods. Some popular cool-season grasses include Fescues, Blue Oat Grass, Tufted Hair Grass, and Autumn Moor Grass.
Warm-season grasses, on the other hand, thrive in hot temperatures and require lots of sun and water. They typically start growing in late spring or early summer and continue until the first frost. Examples of warm-season grasses include Feather Reed Grass, Dwarf Fountain Grass, and Muhly Grass.
Most ornamental grass types grow best in full sun, although some varieties can tolerate partial shade. Even those that require full sun may work in partial shade, but their flowering will not be as prolific and they may become too leggy with sparse foliage.
It’s important to choose a site with well-drained soil for most ornamental grasses. Well-established sun-loving grasses are drought tolerant and can survive in heavy clay soil. Planting them in raised beds will help to ensure good drainage. Ordinary garden soil is adequate for most grasses.
Full Sun Ornamental Grasses: Requirements And Recommendations
If you are looking to add full sun ornamental grasses to your garden, there are a few requirements and recommendations to keep in mind. First, it is important to choose grasses that will thrive in your particular garden conditions. Look for varieties that are labeled as full sun or sun-loving, and make sure to read the plant tags carefully before purchasing.
Once you have selected your grasses, it is important to prepare the soil properly. Most ornamental grasses prefer well-drained soil, so consider planting them in raised beds or adding organic matter to improve drainage. Ordinary garden soil is usually sufficient for most grasses, but it never hurts to amend the soil with a nutrient-rich product like Miracle-Gro® All Purpose Garden Soil.
When it comes time to plant your grasses, make sure to do so in the spring or early fall when temperatures are mild. Water plants thoroughly at the time of planting and throughout the season as needed, and consider feeding them with a product like Miracle-Gro® Shake ‘n Feed® All Purpose Plant Food 30 days after planting.
To keep your full sun ornamental grasses looking their best, you may need to do a little bit of maintenance. Most grasses require division as they grow, which means you can plant the other half elsewhere in the yard. If they start to look a little scruffy, a haircut of sorts might be necessary. This simply means cutting them down to almost ground level and letting them regrow back shape with fresh, unblemished leaves.
When selecting full sun ornamental grasses, be sure to choose varieties that are not invasive. Some popular grasses like pampas grass can be incredibly damaging to hillsides and native plant populations. Look for safer alternatives that will provide beauty without harming the environment.
Partial Shade Ornamental Grasses: Requirements And Recommendations
Partial shade often means the shade is during just part of the day or it can be a dappled light area. If you have a shaded area in your garden, don’t worry! There are still many options for ornamental grasses that will thrive in partial shade.
When choosing partial shade ornamental grasses, it is important to consider their growing requirements. Most ornamental grasses must have well-drained soil, so planting them in raised beds will help to ensure good drainage. Ordinary garden soil is adequate for most grasses. Some grass-like sedges and rushes will thrive in moist or even wet soil.
Japanese forest grass is an excellent choice for partial shade areas. It is a slow-growing ornamental grass that can tolerate both full sun and partial shade. It has beautiful, cascading foliage that adds a unique texture to any garden.
Another great option for partial shade is the Hakonechloa grass. This ornamental grass has a beautiful arching habit and comes in a variety of colors, including green, gold, and variegated.
If you’re looking for a taller option, northern sea oat grass is a great choice. It has attractive seed heads that add interest to any garden and can tolerate both full sun and partial shade.
When mixing in grass-like plants or plants with architecture reminiscent of grass, remember to maintain good spacing (every 4′ when mixed with large grasses) to flatter the plant’s natural architecture. New Zealand Flax (Phormium), Flax Lily (Dianella), Blue-eyed grass (Schizachyrium bellum), Agave, Iris, Dracaena & Cordyline are all excellent options for adding texture and interest to any garden.
How To Care For Your Ornamental Grasses
Caring for your ornamental grasses is relatively easy, as they are mostly free of pests and diseases. However, proper care is still necessary to ensure that your grasses thrive and remain healthy. Here are some tips on how to care for your ornamental grasses:
1. Watering: Most ornamental grasses are drought-tolerant and do not require frequent watering. However, newly planted grasses may need more water until they establish a good root system. Water deeply once a week for the first month or two, then reduce watering to every few weeks or once a month in the hottest summer weeks.
2. Fertilizing: Ornamental grasses do not require heavy fertilization. A light application of fertilizer in the spring can help promote growth and improve plant health. Use a slow-release fertilizer or a balanced fertilizer such as 10-10-10.
3. Pruning: Most ornamental grasses do not require pruning, but some warm-season grasses may benefit from trimming off their seedheads in the heat to rejuvenate the plant. Cut back plants in late winter before new growth begins to make way for new growth.
4. Mulching: Mulching can help retain moisture and suppress weeds around your ornamental grasses. Apply a 2-3 inch layer of organic mulch such as wood chips or shredded leaves around the base of the plant, being careful not to cover the crown.
5. Division: Ornamental grasses can become overcrowded over time and may need to be divided to maintain their health and vigor. Divide grasses in the spring before new growth begins or in the fall after they have gone dormant.
By following these simple care tips, you can enjoy your ornamental grasses for years to come and add a wonderful texture and interest to your garden or landscape.
Designing Your Garden With Ornamental Grasses
Ornamental grasses are a great addition to any garden, providing texture, color, and movement. Here are some tips on how to design your garden with ornamental grasses:
1. Choose the right grasses for your garden conditions: Before planting any ornamental grasses, it’s important to assess the amount of sunlight and soil drainage in your garden. Most ornamental grasses require full sun and well-drained soil, so make sure to choose varieties that will thrive in your specific conditions.
2. Use grasses for texture and contrast: Ornamental grasses can provide a unique texture and contrast to your garden design. They can be used to create a naturalistic prairie-style perennial bed or as a second layer of interest in a large bed of coarse large-leafed shrubs.
3. Create privacy screens: Larger growing ornamental grasses like Maiden and Pampas grass can make wonderful screens and living fences. Planting several in a group can block an unsightly view and create privacy. They also give a tropical feel to swimming pool areas as they create privacy from neighbors’ prying eyes.
4. Add interest to perennial beds: Adding ornamental grasses to your perennial garden creates a stylized version of the Midwest Prairie. Threading these undulating waves of grasses through groups of blooming coneflower, yarrow, coreopsis, sage, and sedums can create a breathtaking effect.
5. Leave grasses standing through winter: Leaving up the seed heads of ornamental grasses may attract hungry birds in winter and can provide interest during the colder months.
In conclusion, designing your garden with ornamental grasses can add texture, color, and movement to your landscape. With careful selection and placement, they can provide year-round interest and enhance the overall beauty of your garden.