How to Use Ornamental Grasses in Midwest Gardens
Ornamental grasses work hard so that gardeners don't have to. With good drainage, they will grow in most soils. Established plants tolerate drought and pests--not even deer dine on them. And these versatile plants fill many roles in Midwest gardens.
Ornamental grasses can soften the look of any hardscaping--pool, deck, wall or paving. Breaking up expanses of manufactured materials keeps your garden warm and inviting. Here, a mass of miscanthus softens the concrete edge of a swimming pool, the perfect place for grasses because they don't attract bees.
Ornamental grasses send out plumes of airy spikelets that look beautiful against the sky or evergreens. Leaves range from needlelike to flat bands. And growth mounds or arches. All that variety means you can easily add texture to your garden. Here, fountaingrass and miscanthus varieties mix well with black-eyed Susan, lavender and hydrangea.
Varieties that shoot to the sky provide height for screening an unpleasant view or providing privacy. Consider big bluestem (6 feet or more), moorgrass (7 feet or more), ravennagrass (12 feet or more) or maidengrasses (10 feet or more). Because you will have to cut back these perennials in early spring, you'll have a month or two (while they grow back) without a screen.
Enliven decks and patios
Planting ornamental grasses--tall or short--in containers allows you to bring their beauty to decks and patios. Here, purple fountaingrass adds texture to a rooftop garden. Pots are the perfect vehicle for annual or tender varieties because, just like any other annual, you would have to replace them in the spring.
Add spark to beds and borders. A tall grass makes an excellent focal point in a large bed. Or try a bright green variety in a shady spot. Here, a clump of fountaingrass complements black-eyed Susans, cannas, coleus and petunias along a deck.
Define the edge
Edge beds and borders with a row of low-growing, compact grasses. Choose small species; the blue fescue pictured here works great. When using grasses as edging, plant them a little closer together than generally called for so they grow together in one line.
Give year-round interest
Just when the rest of the garden starts to fade for the year, grasses rise to the occasion. Because many have interesting seed heads and bold fall color, they offer visual appeal even into winter. Northern sea oats (pictured) are popular because of their bronze seed heads. Switchgrass has great fall leaf color.
Grasses attract wildlife, especially birds. Our feathered friends use the leaf blades for making nests, find shelter in large grasses and eat the seed heads. To have the best chance at attracting wildlife, plant grasses native to your region.
Low-growing or midsize grasses are top-notch groundcovers. They smother weeds while providing interesting texture. Mounding grasses make good groundcovers because of their dense habit.
Add prairie style
Many varieties of ornamental grasses were once part of the tallgrass prairie that covered a large portion of the Midwest. To reproduce that look (on a much smaller scale!), use those natives in your landscaping. These extra-tough plants provide natural beauty with minimal maintenance. For best success, select grasses native to your region, such as bluestems, switchgrass or cordgrass.