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Ornamental Grasses for Inspired Designs

Including ornamental grasses in complex container designs and large-scale landscape beds is a simple way to jazz them up without increasing your costs dramatically. Find inspiration for designing with Proven Winners ornamental grasses here.

Contributors: Susan Martin

Ornamental grasses have tremendous potential for adding elegance and texture to landscapes and containers, but it’s not always obvious how to incorporate them into your designs. Let’s take a look at how to position them for maximum effect.

Annual Grasses for Containers

Annual ornamental grasses make some of the best thrillers in large combination containers since they bulk up quickly, adding height, texture and visual weight that persists all season. Many varieties bloom all season too, not just in fall like warm season perennial grasses. Their color palette typically ranges from green to blue, copper, red and purple. Size varies greatly by variety, so research this carefully when designing your combinations.

In this on-trend trio of Cor-ten® steel planters, we’ve paired Graceful Grasses® Vertigo® and Fiber Optic Grass with creamy white Supertunia® Latte petunias and Illusion® Garnet Lace sweet potato vines. As the season progresses, the trailing petunias and vines will grow to cover most of the container as the purple Vertigo grass reaches upwards of four feet tall. (Best in full sun to light shade.)

These low water, high style plantings were built to withstand heat and humidity, requiring less water than many flower combinations. Purple fountain grass and Graceful Grasses® Toffee Twist sedge in these containers were used to add height, break up the fine texture pattern, and provide color all season long. They were paired with low water use annuals including Vermillionaire® Cuphea, Flambé® Yellow strawflowers and Luscious® Marmalade lantana. (Best in full sun.)

Annual Grasses for Landscapes

Many people think of perennial grasses first when they begin to design landscapes, but annual ornamental grasses offer one important benefit—they mature very quickly. So if you’re looking to install a fast-growing screen in a sunny spot, perhaps for temporary coverage, a tall annual grass like Graceful Grasses® Vertigo® is definitely the way to go.


Annual ornamental grasses like Graceful Grasses® ‘Sky Rocket’, ‘Fireworks’ and Purple Fountain Grass

Pennisetum mature quickly into gracefully arching clumps that are ideal for creating a focal point, softening a hard edge, or complementing a water feature in the landscape. They can handle somewhat drier soils and require full sun. Use Cyperus grasses like the Tut series for wetter soils and water features in full sun to part shade.

Perennial Grasses for Landscapes

Perennial grasses are instrumental when designing durable landscapes that require little maintenance. They are also used frequently by designers looking to create sustainable landscapes that support and sustain wildlife. And in the depths of winter, when there is little else of interest in the garden, ornamental grasses continue to shine.

Like annual grasses, they add texture, height and structure to the garden. Though they are a bit slower to mature, most perennial grasses are very long-lived and look better every year as they mature into large clumps. They offer greater value in that they can be divided every few years and spread to other places in the landscape.   

Cultivars of our native Panicum virgatum switch grass, including Prairie Winds® ‘Apache Rose’, ‘Cheyenne Sky’ and ‘Totem Pole’ will tolerate just about any soil type and moisture level from wet to dry as long as full sun is provided. Prairie Winds® cultivars have strongly upright habits so they won’t flop over in heavy rains or winds, and offer a range of foliage colors from green to blue to deep red. Grow them en masse or as a single architectural specimen for greatest effect in the landscape.

Fountain grasses like the improved Prairie Winds® ‘Desert Plains’ Pennisetum alopecuroides are classic fall blooming perennial grasses for full sun, named for their bottlebrush plumes which cascade like a fountain up from the center of the clump. This is a dense grass that out-competes weeds in the landscape. Each specimen will take up about four square feet of real estate when it is mature, so plan ahead when designing with this perennial grass. Grow it as a focal point for the fall garden.


Another long-lived perennial grass you’ll often see planted en masse in sunny, dry landscapes is little bluestem, Schizachyrium scoparium, which is native to all 48 contiguous United States except Nevada and Oregon, and across Canada. Prairie Winds® ‘Blue Paradise’ is a dense, columnar-shaped cultivar that stands up valiantly to wind and rain without flopping like the straight species. Its cool silvery blue foliage which transitions to deep wine purple in fall looks right at home in native gardens and prairie plantings.

Explore more Proven Winners grasses for containers and landscapes here.

Patent Info: Vertigo® Pennisetum purpureum USPP22254 CanPBRAF; Supertunia® Latte Petunia USPPAF CanPBR5508; Illusion® Garnet Lace Ipomoea batatas USPP23612 CanPBR4537; Superbells® Plum Calibrachoa USPPAF CanPBRAF; Flambe® Yellow Chrysocephalum apiculatum USPP19175 CanPBR3280; Luscious® Marmalade Lantana camara USPP27378 CanPBR5309; 'Sky Rocket' Pennisetum setaceum USPP21497; 'Fireworks' Pennisetum setaceum USPP18504; 'Apache Rose' Panicum virgatum USPPAF CanPBRAF; 'Cheyenne Sky' Panicum virgatum USPP23209; 'Totem Pole' Panicum virgatum USPPAF CanPBRAF; 'Desert Plains' Pennisetum alopecuroides USPP20751; 'Blue Paradise' Schizachyrium scoparium USPP28145 CanPBRAF

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