Ornamental grasses

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Varied plant group

Ornamental grasses are more than just green fillers. They are available in a wide variety of shapes and colors. As large as the variety of colors and shapes is, so is the range of use: it ranges from the small ornamental grass, which is best planted in a larger group, to striking solitary grasses that can form striking points of view in a plantation. Depending on use and combination, ornamental grasses can be subtle planting partners that emphasize the beauty of colorful flowering perennials, or even the stars in the bed.
The ornamental grasses with the highest ornamental value belong to the family of the genuine grasses (Poaceae), also called Süßgräser. From a botanical point of view, inaccurate, but include grass-like families such as Sauer- or Riedgräser (Cyperaceae), rushes (Juncaceae) and cattail family (Typhaceae) to the ornamental grasses. The four plant families have many similarities not only externally but also in terms of their use.
There are annual and perennial ornamental grasses. Annual (annual) grasses complete their entire life cycle from germination to seed formation within one year and then die off. Perennial grasses are so persistent that they are colloquially often referred to as herbaceous grasses. They play a particularly important role in gardening practice.

Appearance and growth

Ornamental grasses have a surprising variety of colors and show in all shades of green, ranging from brown to yellow to a noble gray or silver. Their color change them mostly with the seasons. Some species, such as riding grasses (Calamagrostis) or pipe grasses (Molinia), are still brimming with vibrant foliage colors at the end of the year. Ornamental grasses such as the giant gooseweed (Carex pendula), the bluish-green bulrush (Juncus inflexus) or the hellebore (Luzula) are all-year-round green. Their decorative, but unobtrusive leaves and inflorescences, and not least the extremely low maintenance costs, are the reasons why ornamental grasses in garden and bed design are becoming increasingly important.
In terms of appearance and growth, the spectrum ranges from impressive giant grasses, which can grow up to four meters high, to dwarfish specimens that grow barely more than a few centimeters high. They also differ in their habit: some are upright, others overhanging, and others, such as the Japanese grass, seem to flow across the ground. However, the elongated, slender leaf shape is consistent with almost all ornamental grasses.

Carex 'Toffee Twist'

The Carex 'Toffee Twist' captivates with its bushy growth and the dramatic red color also in individual position

In the growth form of ornamental grasses, the gardener differentiates between Horst grasses and the spur-forming species. Think carefully what ornamental grass you want in your garden. Horst grasses grow in dense clumps in a limited space, while sprouting grasses overgrow large areas if they are not stopped.
Flowers show in different form on almost all ornamental grasses. The pole (Arundo donax) or the foxred sedge (Carex buchananii) are rather unremarkable. In Hainsimsen (Luzula), Wollhaargras (Thynchelytrum repens) or Silberährengras (Achnatherum calamagrostis), however, they are more pronounced. Particularly large showy flower panicles bear many varieties of Miscanthus (Chinese miscanthus) and the slightly frost-sensitive pampas grass (Cortaderia).
Many ornamental grasses adorn the flowering time with striking fruit stalks, which differ in most species only in their color from the flowers. Very decorative are, for example, the inflorescences of spring grasses (Stipa), Morgensternsegge (Carex grayi) and Job's turf grass (Coix lacryma-jobi).

Location and ground

Most ornamental grasses prefer a sunny spot in the garden. Among the most common genera include the early-toed-riding grass (Calamagrostis), the whistling grass (Molinia) and the miscanthus (Miscanthus). For a while the millet grass (Panicum) with its brown-red and yellow autumn color has almost overtaken the lamp-cleaner grass (Pennisetum) in popularity. The soil for the mentioned species should be rich in nutrients and humus.

Barley Millet (Panicum virgatum 'Fontaine')

Blue whistling grass (Molinia caerulea 'Moor Witch')

The millet (Panicum virgatum 'Fontaine') is perennial and grows in a beautifully upright silhouette (left). The Blue Whistleweed (Molinia caerulea 'Moor Witch', right) also loves a place in the sun

In the shade, for example, the evergreen sedges (Carex) thrive well. Also the Hainsimse (Luzula), the forest Schmiele (Deschampsia cespitosa) and the Japangras (Hakonechloa) feel well here. With the golden yellow flutter grass (Milium Effusum 'Aureum') light accents can be conjured even in darker corners.Make sure that the ornamental grasses are here on loose and humus rich soil.

Golden yellow flutter grass (Milium Effusum 'Aureum')

Snow Marbel (Luzula nivea)

The golden yellow flutter grass (Milium Effusum 'Aureum') brings light into dark beds (left). The Snow Marbel (Luzula nivea) makes filigree white flowers (right)

Cold season grasses and warm season grasses

In the case of ornamental grasses, it is also possible to distinguish between the grasses of the cool season and those of the warm, based on the flowering period. The subdivision is mainly done by the North American gardeners, because the climate there is much more extreme and has a strong impact on the growth of ornamental grasses.
The cold season grasses are often shade-loving, winter or evergreen and grow even at low temperatures. As they sprout out very early, they already bloom in late spring or early summer. Your resting phase, however, lies in the summer months. Increasingly smaller species and varieties such as the sedge or the Japanese mountain grass are among the cold season grasses.
The warm-season grasses, on the other hand, do not drive until late in the year and bloom in late summer. These include the lamp cleaner grass, the miscanthus or the switchgrass. They usually keep their dead leaves as winter protection and are often used in perennial plantings.

Garden design with ornamental grasses

Many ornamental grasses often unfold their creative effect only at second glance and rarely crowd into the foreground in the bed. Garden designers therefore refer to them as structural plants, which only come into their own through the contrast with the flowers of various perennials. But there are also species such as the pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana) or the rodent millet (Panicum virgatum), which act with their intense coloration and the magnificent flower jewelry as well in individual position. Graceful ornamental grasses such as woolly grasses (Melinis), shiver grasses (Briza) and many other species for sunny locations make themselves very good in the vicinity of such outstanding plants as perennial sunflowers (Helianthus) or dahlias.
Note the bed design that ornamental grasses for sunny beds are real late starters. They often go out only in late spring and are in the most favorable case in the early summer again so high that one perceives them in the bed. Most of their planting partners should therefore be perennials and dwarf shrubs that only bloom in late summer or late summer. But to ensure that the bed does not look too bare in spring, it is important to find a good balance - for example, by combining the planting with various bulb flowers and spring shrubs. Depending on growth height and optical dominance, ornamental grasses are usually set individually or in small groups in the bed.


An exciting plantation is the combination of ball thistle (Echinops ritro), steppe sage (Salvia nemorosa) and lamp cleaner grass (Pennisetum)

The lamp cleaner grass (Pennisetum) is a beautiful and very common example of a nearly year-round high ornamental value. From spring to summer it shows itself as a filigree bush with delicate stalks and leaves that change color between a light green and a subtle gray. This makes the lamp cleaner grass the ideal company for delphinium (Delphinium), summer marguerite (Leucanthemum maximum) or tall shrub phlox (Phlox paniculata). In midsummer, when many plants have already faded, the ornamental grass then shows its unique inflorescences and shines in delicate pastel tones until autumn. Now, for example, it can be beautifully combined with autumn flowers like the Aster. In wintertime the lamp-cleaner's grass turns brownish, but retains its fruit candles.
What applies to the sun worshiper, that is also true for the shadow children: sedges and other ornamental grasses for shady garden corners should primarily be combined with plants, which can achieve beautiful contrasts. Since the selection of conspicuous flowering plants for shady locations is not very large, you also choose here ferns and perennials with eye-catching leaf jewelry such as funerals as a bed partner. Many shade grasses are evergreen, so you can achieve great plant pictures in April and May with bulbous flowers and flowering spring shrubs.


An assortment of ornamental grasses can now be found in almost every nursery and every garden center. The grasses are usually offered as potted plants. When shopping in the summer, make sure that the plants are pretty bushy and have healthy foliage. If you go shopping in the spring, when the grasses are still in hibernation, you should take a good look at the root ball. If the potbell is well but not too dense, you can expect to hold a healthy specimen in your hands.

Silver lily (Agapanthus) and lamprey grass (Pennisetum)

The violet flowers of the lily (Agapanthus) can be accompanied very harmoniously with lamprey grass (Pennisetum)

At home, you should plant the ornamental grasses as quickly as possible, because the plant pot from the nursery is not suitable for the permanent culture. In a slightly damp state, the bales are best pulled out of the pot.Dig sufficiently large holes into the bed where you carefully insert the root balls or rhizomes. The planting depth is about the same depth as the pot. Then gently squeeze the plants. After planting, you should water your ornamental grass well, even when it rains. Only then are the cavities in the soil washed in and the roots have good earth contact. Until the ornamental grasses have grown, you should water the plants regularly. For shade grass we recommend to cover the soil surface with a mulch layer of about five to seven centimeters. This keeps the soil moist and prevents weed growth.

care Tips

You should always refrain from tillage in the shade of sun and shade in the case of perennial plants - if you repeatedly injure the roots of the plants, they will not spread and no closed planting can occur.
Due to the high drought tolerance of most ornamental grasses you can usually do without regular watering. Also fertilizers are actually superfluous. High-growth nutrient-requiring species such as pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana) or miscanthus, however, grow better if they are supplied with organic fertilizer every two years in the form of well-rotted compost or cow dung. However, other ornamental grasses do not tolerate fertilizer at all: they become plowed and lose their leaves. These include blue winged, feather grass or heart-shivering grass (Briza media). Even shade grasses and water grasses like rushes (Juncus), which like to proliferate, do not need fertilizer.
Many ornamental grasses can also be cultivated well in pots and pots. Here, however, as with all potted plants, regular watering is essential.

To cut

The cutting measures are usually limited to ornamental grasses to a complete pruning in the spring before the plants expire again. Then you should also remove the old flower and seed stems from the previous year. Evergreen ornamental grasses are usually not cut back. Instead, comb the leaves with your fingers in the spring to remove the dead leaves. But be careful: Be sure to wear gloves because the leaves of many species are very sharp-edged. High ornamental grasses such as pampas grass or miscanthus may only be cut back in the spring. Tie them together over the winter to protect them from freezing conditions.


Most ornamental grasses can be easily multiplied by division. The best time for this is the spring just before the new boom. Just use a sharp spade to prick off a piece of the plant's nest and replace it elsewhere. A regular division of the plants is in contrast to many flowering perennials, however, not necessary because ornamental grasses hardly over age. Basically, you can propagate many ornamental grasses by sowing, however, the growing method is lengthy and produces in special breeding forms no sortenechten offspring.

Video Board: Top 10 Ornamental Grasses.

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