GARDENS BY THE BAY
ORNAMENTAL GRASSES & THEIR COMPANIONS - 1
Knowing about ornamental grasses will help you grow them well, in the right location and with the right partners. Learn where they fit in the two basic categories below before adding any to your gardens so you will know what care is required and when. The difference is important and readily available, on our own two grass pages, in new books written specifically on the subject or on other sites on the Internet. Since there are increasing numbers of attractive and interesting ornamental grasses available today we might as well all learn to use them to their best advantage at the outset. Remember - do not fertilize ornamental grasses. None is required and doing so may actually be detrimental to them.
1 - GROWTH HABIT
RUNNING (SPREADING) GRASSES
- will behave themselves in your garden
- gradually expand outward but never invasively
- are always a welcome addition to the garden
- can quickly become a nuisance, sometimes even a menace
- can be a beautiful sight in the garden but must be curbed to prevent their invasive spread
2 - GROWTH SEASON
COOL SEASON GRASSES
WARM SEASON GRASSES
- start growing in late winter or early spring
- flower by early summer
- go dormant in mid-summer
- may prefer more moisture than warm-season grasses do
- require a mid-summer cut-back to ensure fresh foliage for fall
- division can usually be done in either spring or fall
You may want to check out the wealth of information that can be found on the BLUESTEM NURSERY site. Be sure to bookmark us before you leave so you can come back to our site again.
- start growing when temperatures increase in spring
- flower in summer or fall
- go dormant in winter
- most change colour in autumn
- become dry with the approach of winter and become very light-coloured
- their tan or wheat shades bring wonderful interest to the winter garden
- require only a cut-back to near ground level in early spring before new growth commences
- divide only in spring
* Watch for the animated hummingbird and butterfly with the plants that attract them. *
The deer icon indicates plants that deer are not usually attracted to.
The best time and method to propagate plants can be found on our image-intensive PROPAGATION page.
To help your plants grow their best, check out our FERTILIZATION page.
To create your own plant partnerships based on tried and true color theory, check out our GARDEN COLOR page.
To see if a particular plant is on this page press Ctrl+F, type in the name, then click the Find button.
Sweet Flag is neither a true grass nor a sedge.
Acorus gramineus variegatus 'Ogon': Golden Variegated Sweet Flag, 9"x24"
note: this is one of the best Sweet Flag cultivars with evenly golden-yellow foliage
where: prefers full sun to light shade and must be kept moist
uses: a good pot or tub plant, edger, groundcover
between: Lantana & Santolina
in front of: Geum quellyon 'Mrs. Bradshaw'
Meadow Foxtail is a cool-season, slowly-spreading grass. Rick Darke suggests cutting plants back to about 5" when flowering begins in order to retain the colour of the foliage. Flowers are of little ornamental value in any case.
Alopecurus pratensis var. aureus: Yellow Foxtail Grass, 18-24"x12-24", foliage has golden-yellow stripes and edges
synonyms: Alopecurus pratensis 'Aureovariegatus'; A. p.
Aureomarginatus', A. p. 'Aureus'
where: prefers full sun, except in hot climates where it prefers light or afternoon shade
note: height will depend on soil; 2-3" in poor soil where it will "run", 12" or more in rich, loamy soil where it will "clump"
uses: garden filler, or to spill over edges, either alone or in masses
with: spring bulbs
with: other Ornamental Grasses such as Imperata cylindrica 'Rubra'
Beard Grass is a tall warm season clump-forming grass.
Andropogon gerardii: Big Bluestem, Turkey Foot, 5'x18", powder-blue foliage turning orange to copper red in fall
Rick Darke calls this: "a regal species referred to as "the monarch of the prairie grasses"
habit: strongly upright
where: in full sun and poor soil, preferring a hot and dry site
among: greys and silvers
with mauves: Aster novi-belgii including 'Chequers', 'Combe Rosemary', 'Royal Velvet'
with lighter purple tones: Aster x frikartii 'Monch', 'Flora's Delight'
with yellows: Rudbeckia fulgida 'Goldsturm'
Bulbous Oat Grass is a cool-season clumping grass.
Arrhenatherum elatius bulbosum 'Variegatum': Bulbous Oat Grass, 12-18"x12"
this grass browns out in the heat of mid-summer; cut it back to produce new foliage once cooler temperatures return
plant behind: summer-flowering plants that will hide it during its dormant phase
uses: rock garden specimen or in perennial borders
combined with: Achillea 'Moonshine', Nepeta, Coreopsis 'Moonbeam' & Stachys byzantina 'Silver Carpet'
with: spring bulbs, or silver or grey-foliaged plants
amid bulbs: Crocus chrysanthus (snow crocus), Chionodoxa & other small spring bulbs
between: Achillea 'Moonshine' & Nepeta
near: Achillea 'Paprika'
Feather Reed Grass is a cool-season clumping grass.
Calamagrostis x acutiflora stricta: Feather Reed Grass, 4-5'x2'
synonym: Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Stricta'
note: one of the showiest of flowering ornamental grasses
uses: a striking vertical accent, planted in groups, at the rear of a border, cut flowers
behind: Hypericum calycinum, Pennisetum alopecuroides especially 'Moudry'
beside: Miscanthus sinensis giganteus, Physostegia virginiana 'Vivid', Caryopteris x clandonensis 'Blue Mist'
between: Eupatorium purpureum & Hibiscus moscheutos
offset behind: Veronica longifolia 'Sunny Border Blue', Hibiscus moscheutos & Boltonia asteroides 'Snowbank'
in front of: Miscanthus sinensis 'Graciella', Miscanthus sinensis 'Sarabande'
behind: Lythrum virgatum 'Dropmore Purple'
beside: Allium, Miscanthus sinensis 'Gracillimus'
between: Spartina & Miscanthus sinensis 'Gracillimus'
in front of: Miscanthus sinensis 'Zebrinus'
Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster': Foerster's Reed Grass, 4-5'
Calamagrostis arundinacea 'Overdam': Variegated Reed Grass, 3-4', good fall foliage colour
where: in moist, rich soil, full sun
offset behind: Astilbe arendsii 'Amethyst'
offset behind: Deschampsia caespitosa 'Goldtau'
offset in front of: Miscanthus sinensis 'Variegatus'
behind or beside: Miscanthus sinensis 'Purpurascens'
uses: specimen plant, perennial beds, low screen in shaded areas, dried arrangements
where: sun, partial shade in hot climates
with: Aster, Boltonia, Crambe, Eupatorium, Monarda Rudbeckia, Sedum, Veronicastrum
with other grasses: Sorghastrum nutans 'Indian Steel'
Some forms of Sedge are clumping but beware - there are also many "runners" in the genus. Check carefully before you buy. And also be aware that many sedges are only hardy to Zone 7.
Carex elata 'Aurea': Bowles' Golden Sedge, Zone 5, to 30", graceful
with: Iris sibirica, especially blue-flowered forms, pink or red Astrantia
Carex glauca: Blue Sedge, a slowly-creeping form, 6"x6-12"
Carex morrowii 'Variegata': Silver Variegated Japanese Sedge, 18-24"x8-10"
synonym: Carex flacca
where: prefers full sun; plant in masses in moist areas which they prefer
with: Iris x germanica, Stachys byzantina, Mazus reptans, Phlox subulata, Sedum (yellow forms)
at base of: Acer palmatum dissectum
with: Ophipogon planiscapus 'Arabicus', miniature Hosta, ferns & Lysimachia nummularia 'Aurea'
between: Artemisia abrotanum & Helichrysum 'Mo's Gold'
offset in front of: Gypsophila 'Bristol Fairy'
Carex nigra: Black-Flowered Sedge, 6-10"x6-12", a spreading but not invasive form
uses: groundcover, mass plantings, under trees
where: in shady borders, moist sites, wet meadows
note: tolerates both damp and dry conditions as well as shade or sun
with other shade plants: Heuchera, Helleborus, Cimicifuga (now reclassified as Actaea)
beside: Geranium macrorrhizum
uses: groundcover, in pots or tubs, water gardens
with other blue-gray plants: Aquilegia, Iris, Lamium
beside: Stachys byzantina
Carex oshimensis 'Evergold': 10"x12", dark green with a broad central creamy-yellow stripe
watch for a picture here in 2008 if this plant proves hardy in Zone 5
also known as: Carex oshimensis 'Aureovariegata', 'Everbrite', 'Old Gold'
where: best in some shade, dislikes hot climates
uses: an accent plant, planted in groups, massed as groundcover, in containers
Re-classification has meant a name change for this genus once commonly called Northern Sea Oats. This warm season clump-forming grass is now correctly known as Wild-oats or wood-oats. One of few grasses that actually do well in shady conditions, this one will even be happy in very dry shade.
Chasmanthium latifolium: Indian wood-oats, River-oats, to 4 feet
in front of: Osmunda claytoniana (Interrupted Fern), Phalaris arundinacea (if anyone still grows this invasive beauty)
offset in front of: Hydrangea quercifolia (Oakleaf Hydrangea)
beside: Deschampsia cespitosa 'Gold Veil' ('Goldschleier') or 'Fairy's Joke', Hystrix patula
behind: Hosta 'Francee' or 'Frances Williams', Carex siderostica 'Variegata', Dicentra spectabilis (white)
offset behind: Adiantum pedatum (Maidenhair Fern), Digitalis grandiflora synonym Digitalis ambigua (yellow Foxglove)
Hairgrass is a cool season clumping grass.
Deschampsia cespitosa: Tufted Hair Grass, 30-36"x12-18"
specific epithet is often misspelled: caespitosa
where: sun or shade
in shade with: ferns, Hosta, other shade and moisture-loving plants
in semi-shade behind: Corydalis flexuosa 'China Blue' or 'Purple Leaf'
offset behind tall plants: Veronicastrum virginicum, Digitalis ferruginea
between: Helictotrichon sempervirens & Hemerocallis 'Stella d'Oro'
behind: Hemerocallis 'Golden Gift'
Deschampsia cespitosa 'Bronzeschleier': Bronze Veil Tufted Hairgrass
whispy plumes appeared in spite of recently having been moved to a new location above
note: this is perhaps the best-known selection in the genus, much better for warmer climates than others
with: please tell us about any pleasing combinations you have created in your gardens with this shorter-statured grass
Lyme Grass is highly invasive so be sure to contain roots to prevent its spread.
Elymus arenarius: Lyme Grass, Sea Lyme Grass, to 5' tall x indefinite spread
synonym; Leymus arenarius
sometimes incorrectly called: Elymus glaucus
beside: Alchemilla mollis
with: Geranium sanguineum (magenta), Phlox paniculata
with: Lythrum virgatum
There have been changes in this genus, with some forms now moved to the Leymus genus. For more information that might clarify this, simply follow the link below.
silver foliage Lyme Grass
Fescue is an evergreen, cool-season clumping grass, all forms of which do best in full sun and light soils. Cut them down in early spring to encourage production of new foliage. Divide every 3-4 years to maintain vigour.
Festuca: Blue Fescue, under 12"x8-12"
Festuca glauca: Blue Fescue, glaucous- or silvery-blue foliage
seen above with Salvia 'East Friesland', Heuchera sanguinea, pink Dianthus & a red Sempervivum tectorum
uses: garden accent for both foliage colour and texture, groundcover, rock or trough gardens, in pots or tubs, edger
with: plants of different textures & colours
with: Sedum 'Autumn Joy', Alchemilla mollis, Imperata cylindrica, Coreopsis verticillata 'Moonbeam'
synonyms: Festuca ovina var. glauce, Festuca cinerea, Festuca cinerea var. glauca
with: spring bulbs, plants with pink, blue, mauve or purple foliage or flowers
There are many named cultivars in this species, some listed below. Make your choice based on size and foliage colour:
There is more information about this genus and partnership suggestions at the link below.
- 'Aprilgrun' - 22"x30", fresh green
- 'Azurit' - 25"x25", blue-silver, steely-blue,
- 'Blaufink' - more silver than blue
- 'Blaufuchs' ('Blue Fox') - 22"x30"similar to 'Blaufink'
- 'Blauglut' ('Blue Glow') - 25"x30", silvery-blue
- 'Blausilber' ('Blue-Silver') - 22"x30", blue-silver
- 'Caesia' - silver-blue
- 'Elijah Blue' - 22"x30", silvery-blue, a larger and longer-lived form
- 'Golden Toupee' - 22"x22", yellow leaves with a blue cast
- 'Harz' - 22"x30", blue-green with purplish tips, sometimes called dull deep blue
- 'Mereblau' - sea-green with green overtones or undertones
- 'Seeigel' ('Sea Urchin') - 15"x22", extremely fine-textured olive-green
- 'Solling' - silvery-grey
- 'Silbersee' ('Silver Sea' or 'Severn Seas') - 15"x20", dwarf, intense silvery-blue
silver foliage Fescue
Hakone Grass is a slowly-spreading, non-invasive beauty, wonderful as an edger in large drifts. If you have any shade in your garden, you'll want to try any of the forms below immediately.
Hakonechloa macra: Hakone Grass, 18-24"x24"
where: shady sites, groundcover under tall trees
uses: alone or in masses, in pots or tubs, on slopes, spilling over rock edges, oriental gardens
in shade with: ferns, Hosta
with: Imperata cylindrica, Pulmonaria longifolia 'Bertram Anderson'
behind: Hosta x tardiana 'Halcyon'
Hakonechloa macra 'Alboaurea': variegated rich golden yellow & green with occasional flecks, streaks or flushes of white or red
with: Imperata cylindrica 'Red Baron', New Zealand sedges, Sedum telephium 'Lynda' or 'Rodney'
with: Cimicifuga simplex 'Brunette', purple forms of Salvia, blue or silvery foliage
with: other Ornamental grasses
also with: general companions given above or those suggested below for 'Aureola'
Hakonechloa macra 'Mediovariegata' ('Albovariegata')leaves are striped green and cream that fades to almost white
its cream-white variegation may require different companions than those described for gold-leaved forms
Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola': Golden Variegated Hakone Grass, 16"x18-24", variegated rich golden yellow and green
this wonderful short grass can be seen in the border around this page and in the photograph at the top of the page
above left: in spring with Muscari, a purple Grape Hyacinth
above second from left: later with Trollius
behind: Hosta 'Halcyon' or 'Wide Brim'
beside: Hosta montana 'Aureo-marginata'
offset in front of: Kirengeshoma palmata
in front of: Calycanthus floridus 'Athens' (Carolina Allspice shrub)
with: Imperata cylindrica
also see companions above for Hakonechloa macra 'Alboaurea'
Blue Oat Grass is a cool-season clumping grass.
Helictotrichon sempervirens: Blue Oat Grass, 2-3'x2'
Follow the link below for even more information about this wonderful cool season Ornamental Grass.
uses: plant alone or in masses, accent in borders, rock gardens
where: well-drained, fertile soil, full sun
offset beside: Campanula carpatica 'White Clips', Linum perenne 'Diamond', Perovskia atriplicifolia,
offset beside: Salvia officinalis 'Berggarten', Iris x germanica (purple forms)
offset behind: Pennisetum orientale & Molinia litorialis 'Karl Foerster'
offset behind: Molinia litorialis 'Karl Foerster' & Acanthus hungaricus
offset in front of: Gypsophila 'Pink Fairy', Chrysanthemum pacificum
offset in front of: Lilium (pink)
offset in front of: Paeonia spp. & Iris sibirica
offset behind: Iris pallida 'Variegata' & Cheiranthus 'Bowles Mauve'
beside: Hosta, Geranium spp.
between: Deschampsia & Salvia 'East Friesland'
between: Nepeta & Berberis 'Crimson Pygmy'
in front of: Perovskia atriplicifolia, Centranthus ruber & Iris pallida 'Variegata'
offset behind: Hemerocallis 'Golden Gift' & Achillea 'Moonshine'
silver foliage Blue Oat Grass
Blood Grass is a warm-season slowly spreading grass that performs best in a moisture-retentive soil and full sun. For a lovely effect, plant it so the sun shines through it from behind.
Imperata cylindrica: Japanese Blood Grass
note: all but the cultivar below can be extremely invasive and are to be avoided
Imperata cylindrica 'Red Baron': 'Red Baron' Japanese Blood Grass, 12-18"x12"
where: prefers moist, well-drained soil, performing best in full sun
uses: plant as a specimen or in groups, in pots or tubs
with: other Ornamental Grasses such as Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola', Alopecurus pratensis 'Aureomarginata'
with: blue-leaved grasses i.e. Festuca cinerea 'Elijah Blue', Helictotrichon sempervirens
with: silver- or gray-leaved plants
with: pink or purple flowers
with: Sedum 'Autumn Joy'
beside: Ilex x meserveae 'Blue Stallion'
offset in front of: Pennisetum alopecuroides including the cultivar 'Woodside'
offset behind: Euphorbia myrsinites, Acanthus hungaricus
FOR MORE ORNAMENTAL GRASSES & THEIR COMPANIONS FOLLOW THE LINK BELOW.
All of our own Gardens By The Bay pages can be accessed by clicking on the links below.
GARDEN POETRY |
GARDEN POETRY MUSE
GEORGIAN BAY VIEW
BOTANICAL LATIN - BASICS
CORNER GARDEN CONSTRUCTION  |
CORNER GARDEN PLANTING |
EAST GARDEN |
HOSTA GARDEN |
NORTH GARDEN |
BLUE PERENNIALS Aconitum -
Iris - Vinca
BULBS Allium - Hyacinthus |
Narcissus only |
Tulipa only |
BUTTERFLY MAGNETS Anaphalis - Hemerocallis |
Liatris - Veronicastrum
DAYLILIES Spider & Unusual Form
EDGERS Arabis - Iris |
Nepeta - Veronica
Alchemilla - Tanacetum
HOSTA Hosta - all
HUMMINGBIRD-FRIENDLY PERENNIALS Alcea - Salvia
ORANGE PERENNIALS Achillea - Tulipa
ORNAMENTAL GRASSES Acorus - Imperata |
Miscanthus - Spodiopogon
PINK PERENNIALS Achillea - Lilium |
Lychnis - Veronica
PURPLE PERENNIALS Aconitum - Liatris |
Polemonium - Veronica
RED PERENNIALS Achillea - Veronica
SHADE PERENNIALS Aegopodium - Erythronium |
Ferns - Polemonium |
Polygonatum - Vinca
SILVER FOLIAGE PERENNIALS
Achillea - Cerastium
Cornus - Limonium
Lunaria - Veronica
SIMPLY SPECIAL PERENNIALS Acanthus - Saxifraga
WHITE PERENNIALS Achillea - Iris |
Kalimeris - Yucca
YELLOW PERENNIALS Achillea - Hypericum |
Inula - Verbascum
VARIEGATED-FOLIAGE PERENNIALS Acorus - Erythronium |
Hakonechloa - Lysimachia |
Miscanthus - Yucca
Dianthus 'Tiny Rubies' |
Geum coccineum |
Kerria japonica |
Paeonia tenuifolia |
Papaver somniferum |
Salvia 'East Friesland'
Veronica 'Sunny Border Blue'
DIVISION - SPRING ONLY |
DIVISION - FALL ONLY |
DIVISION - SPRING OR FALL |
DO NOT DIVIDE
ORNAMENTAL GRASSES |
LOCAL GARDENS |
GARDENING BOOKS |