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Ornamental grasses can be used to great effect in our gardens, from providing a calming presence to more exuberant flowering plants to being the only focus of the design. There are grasses for damp or dry soil, shady as well as sunny situations. Many are ideal for gravel gardens, prairie planting, wildlife gardens and are great to add to the cutting garden; others perform well in containers.
Ornamental grasses tolerate a wide range of conditions, but most like an open sunny position in light, moist but well-drained, moderately fertile soil.
They do not need much feeding; this can encourage lush foliage at the expense of flowers. One application of a balanced fertiliser in spring is adequate.
It is important to plant grasses at the correct time.
Grasses are good plants for containers. Use loam-based compost such as John Innes No 2 with 20 percent loam-free compost to lighten the mix. Evergreen grasses such as Carex combine well with winter bedding to give height and a contrast in texture.
The foliage on deciduous grasses can be left until February for its structure and movement in the depths of winter when any contribution to interest in the garden is welcome.
For advice on when to cut back evergreen and deciduous grasses, see our page ornamental grasses: cutting back.
Division is one of the main ways to increase your stock of grasses. Carrying this out at the right time of year is important:
Some grasses such as Carex pendula or Anemanthele lessoniana (syn. Stipa arundinacea) seed themselves prolifically to the point of being invasive. For less easy to germinate grasses, collect well-developed flower heads just before the seeds are fully ripe, and ripen them in brown paper bags indoors.
Sow the seeds fresh at a temperature of 10°C (50°F), or store them and sow them in spring.
See Ornamental grasses: selection for a more comprehensive range of plants for specific situations. There are some super grass or grass-like plants to choose from on the RHS Find a plant.
Here are a few top performers:
RHS Find a Plant
Ornamental grasses generally suffer from few problems if they are planted in an appropriate position for their needs.
Rust can be largely avoided by dividing overcrowded clumps and allowing better air circulation around the plants.
Non-flowering is usually caused by insufficient light. Reduce shade from neighbouring shrubs or move the grass to a more open position.
Occasionally, rabbits and voles may be troublesome.
BambooContainer maintenanceGravel gardensHardy heathersOrnamental grasses: cutting backOrnamental grasses: dividingOrnamental grasses: selectionPrairie planting: creation and maintenanceRHS Miscanthus trials bulletin
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