By Bonnie Jo Manion
Ornamental grasses are finding their way into Southern California landscapes and even acting as beautiful lawn substitutes. Not just for private gardens, commercial landscaping frequently engages plantings of ornamental grasses. Pictured here is one of my favorite ornamental grasses, zebra grass (Miscanthus sinensis), mass-planted around my local bank. It has a tall, inverted pyramid shape.
Ornamental grasses have a lot going for them. They are so interesting to the eye and come in so many shapes, sizes, and colors. Most are low maintenance and require but one haircut or close pruning a year. They are drought tolerant once established, and generally have low water requirements. Ornamental grasses draw attention with their textures, structures, and movements.
Another of my favorite perennial grasses is mondo grass (Ophiopogon). This small, clumping grass is easy to maintain, and requires little water and no pruning. It is especially appealing planted en masse. It also comes in a black variety (Ophipogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’), which is absolutely eye-popping planted next to a chartreuse companion plant. Mondo grasses also do well as container plants.
Blue fescue (Festuca glauca) is a popular perennial ornamental grass that has fine, dense blue leaves. You can substitute it easily for a lawn, and it is very showy, with its dense blue-hue tufts and tiny flowers. At maturity one plant or tuft can be 8–12 in high and wide.
Although sedges aren’t true grasses, you can find them often grouped with ornamental grasses for their same appearances and uses. Some, such as California meadow sedge (Carex pansa), you can even walk on.
Leatherleaf sedge (Carex buchananii), pictured here, is a stunning grassy perennial example for those who favor reddish copper browns and chocolates. It can reach 3 ft tall by 2½ ft wide, and prefers regular watering.
Last fall a community of neighborly helping hands transformed this dry vacant corner, not far from my mailbox, into this picturesque landscape filled with low-maintenance ornamental grasses and succulents, and punctuated with a few boulders. What a difference! This corner has filled in beautifully. Two of the predominant ornamental grasses pictured here are purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum) and Mexican feather grass (Nassella tenuissima).
Ornamental grasses can be gorgeous in the landscape or as a replacement for a lawn. Simply choose your garden style and color palette, and begin planting.
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