The Q&A Archives: Ornamental Grasses

Question: According to your map, we live in climate zone 14 (Northern/Central California). We would like to do an artistic assorted planting of some decorative spikey-type grasses, no taller than 2-3 feet fully grown. The area receives morning shade and afternoon sun. We want low maintence varieties, and plan on covering the ground with pebbles/rocks of some type on top of plastic to keep weeds out. Can you suggest what varieties would work best? Thanks much...

Answer: There are so many to choose from! Here are a few of my favorites: BLUE LYME GRASS
(Elymus arenarius) Outstanding perennial offers the bluest color of any grass! Effective, handsome spreading ground cover or accent tolerates a variety of conditions, including drought, and thrives in heat. Deciduous. Full sun. Fast grower to 2 feet tall and wide.

QUAKING GRASS (Briza media) Dense tufts of 6 to 10 inch high blue-green blades. In summer, erect stems hold pendant heart-shaped florets of purple-green that mature to straw colored; they quiver with the slightest wind. Blooms are long lasting. Rock garden use or naturalize in borders. Herbaceous perennial. Full sun. Stalks to 24 to 35 inches tall, clumps to 12 inches wide.

BLUE OAT GRASS (Helictotrichon sempervirens) Graceful fountains of colorful bright blue-gray blades form neat ornamental clumps that combine well with other grasses. Reliable and attractive accent, specimen, perfect for rock gardens. Evergreen. Full sun. Moderate grower to 2 to 3 feet tall and wide.

DWARF PURPLE FOUNTAIN GRASS (Pennisetum setaceum 'Eaton Canyon') Attractive purple tinted foliage produces dense clumps. Flowers early summer through frost with beautiful arching spikes. Varying ages of spikes create color range from buff to deep lavender-red. One of the best grasses for adding quick, high powered accents to existing planting. As single specimen or outstanding masses, it is an eye-pleaser. Herbaceous perennial. Full sun. Fast growth to 30 inches tall, 2 feet wide.

BULBOUS OAT GRASS (Arrhenatherum elatius bulbosum `Variegatum`) Perennial grass that performs best with moist conditions and in cooler seasons of the year. Erect 1-foot high clear blue-green blades have white striping forming attractive small clumps good for massing, rock gardens. Full sun. Slow grower to 12 inches tall and 18-inch-wide clumps.

WHITE LILYTURF (Liriope muscari `White`) Spikes of white flowers appear above dense clumps of grass-like foliage in summer. Excellent for edging pathways and borders in the shade. Evergreen perennial. Filtered sun. Clump-forming plant with foliage 1? to 2 feet tall.

LITTLE KITTEN MAIDEN GRASS (Miscanthus sinensis 'Little Kitten') A dwarf maiden grass with all the beauty and vigor of its larger cousins. Narrow leaves are soft and slightly pendulous producing a lush foliage clump. Flowers in late summer with few blonde spikes just inches above the plant. Foliage fades to gold in fall and flower spikes remain decorative through winter. One of the better grasses for small space city gardens. Plant in masses to evoke the color and animation of wild grasslands. Great single specimen. Easy injection of exciting form and texture for ordinary garden planting. Limited size is perfect in decorative ceramic pots, and dramatic in pairs to flank an entry or focal point. Herbaceous perennial grass. Full sun. Fast growth to just 3 feet tall in bloom and only 12 to 18 inches wide.

SAPPHIRE FOUNTAIN BLUE OAT GRASS (Helictotrichon sempervirens 'Saphirsprudel') A big, showy blue colored ornamental grass. Produces a dense clump with erect blades in bright steel-blue fine textured foliage. Slender flower stalks rise a full two feet above foliage to nod in the breeze. An improved variety with increased resistance to disfiguring rust. Valued as a cool background for strongly colored flowers and foliage plants. Prefers cooler climate to take on best color. Sensitive to poor drainage in winter and high temperature humidity. Herbaceous. Full sun. Moderate to fast growth reaching 30 inches tall and slightly less wide.

For even more choices, do a plant search on the Monrovia website using the term "grasses". You find dozens and dozens. Enjoy!

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