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Ornamental Grasses

 

for your Central Texas Garden

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Pictured above is  Muhlenbergia capalaris (Gulf Muhly Grass)   Click on images for larger view

WHY ORNAMENTAL GRASSES?

1.  Many species are native but others are well suited to the southeast Texas environment

2.  They are pest free,  heat tolerant, and low maintenance plants

3.  They add a unique texture and form to the garden that is different from all other plants

4.  They are adaptable to both wet and dry conditions depending on species

5.  They often do well in poor soils when established, unlike many other plants.

6.  Their plumage and seed pods are highly decorative and can be dried for decorative use.

7.  They improve soil nutrient and texture by recycling decaying organic matter during life cycle

8.  They come in all shapes and sizes, plus color variations to add ornamental value

 

SOME REFLECTIONS ON USE OF GRASSES IN THE GARDEN 

 Ornamental grasses are a "natural" literally.  Before the Houston and Gulf coast area was developed, it was a tall grass coastal prairie with virtually no trees,  ranging from marsh wetland grasses to inland fertile prairie grasses.  These large expanses of grassland were adorned with many species of wild flowers that added spring to fall beauty to the environment.  What we see today is a man-made environment of planted trees, shrubs and structures.  Grasses were here first - and still have a place in your garden.  To see the disappearing coastal prairie, authentically restored, visit the Armand Bayou Nature Center between Houston and Galveston.  

The term "Ornamental Grasses" refers to any plant in the Graminaceae plant family.  This includes true grasses,  bamboos (which are in a subfamily bambusiodeae).  The term also includes grass look-alikes such as  liriope, orphiopogon, acoris and carex (known as sedges). 

Some specific ornamental grasses to consider are shown below.  This table is not a comprehensive listing and there are many other desirable choices to consider as well.

Botanic Name Called Height Cultivars to consider Plumage & features
Miscanthus sinsensis    3-6 feet

gracillimus (narrow with silver edging), variegatus (white variegated),   zebrinus (yellow banded), & caberet (white center streaked variegation)

silvery white loose plumage

Pennisetum setaceum Fountain Grass 3-4 feet rubrum (red colored) rose red spikes (brush like)
Pennisetum alopecurioides Fountain Grass 1-2 feet Hameln, Little Bunny (dwarfs forms of fountain grass) rose red spikes (brush like)
Muhlenbergia capillaris Gulf Muhly Grass 2 feet   native species to Gulf coast
Muhlenbergia lindheimeri Lindheimer Muhly 3 feet   blue/green foliage with soft pink flowing plumage, native inland
Muhlenbergia dumosa Bamboo Muhly 4-6 feet   fernlike foliage, bamboo like appearance
Stipa tenuissima  Mexican Feather Grass 1-2 feet   very fine foliage, golden fine plumage, great texture plant
Chasmanthium latifolium  Inland Sea Oats 2-3  feet   drooping wheat-like plumage, very open textured plant, good for shady areas
Panicum virgatum Switch Grass 4 feet heavy metal (metalic blue foliage) panicle like plumes
Stenotaphrum secundatum St. Augustine 1 foot variagatus stiking variegated display when grown as a clump and not mowed. 
Cymbopogon citrates Lemon Grass 1-2 feet   used as an herb, lemon scented, blueish green

NON-GRAMINACEAE

       
Carex morrowii Sedge   1-2 feet aureo variegata, nana variegata (Cyperaceae family)
Acoris graminus Sweet Flag 1 foot many variegated varieties for moist, or bog areas
Liriope muscari Lily Turf 1-3' many varieties by size & color purple/white stalked fl.
Ophiopogon spp Monkey Grass to 1 foot many varieties by size & color good for bed bordering
Phalaris arundinacea Ribbon Grass 1 foot picta   white variegated foliage

We will not cover the many ornamental varieties of bamboos on this page but they are well worth looking into and considering in your landscaping plans. Consider only clumping, not running varieties when choosing to use bamboos of any size.

Ornamental Grasses to Avoid 

Pampas Grass: (Cortaderia selloana) -  very sharp cutting blade edges, massive clumping that is extremely difficult to thin or remove,  large size to 8' tall is a maintenance problem.

Giant Reed: (Arundo donax) -  a very tall grass to 10' that spreads rampantly by underground stolens that can pop up anywhere, extremely fast growth rate, hard to control. 

 These plants might be fine in an open field area but don't belong in an average yard landscape.

 

 

Above:  Miscanthus sinensis "cabaret"

 

 

Left top:  Miscanthus sinensis 'variegatus'

 

 

Left bottom:  Nasella tenuissima 

(Mexican Feather Grass)