By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
Ornamental grasses provide many attractive functions in the garden. Most are extremely adaptable and produce seductive sound in gentle breezes combined with elegant motion. They are also generally low maintenance and suffer few pest problems. Shady ornamental grasses have traditionally been difficult to find, as many of the commercial offerings are geared towards sun locations. New releases and a clamor from gardeners have seen the options increase in recent years, with numerous lovely ornamental grass for shade available.
Those dark, shady areas of the garden are often difficult to populate with exciting plant specimens. It is a common problem and one that horticulturalists and growers have worked hard to solve. Enter shade loving ornamental grass. Today’s garden centers have a wide variety of low growing or tall, statuesque specimens that thrive in low light. Selecting a variety that suits your shade garden specifications has never been easier.
Choosing an ornamental grass for shade should start with evaluating the other site conditions. Is the area dry, boggy, heavy clay, rocky? What is the soil pH and does the soil need conditioning? Most gardeners have a good gauge on their garden issues and can vet the area’s issues quickly.
Other considerations might be what, if any, sunlight gets into the location. Is it partially shady during some of the day, or fully dark all day long? Some plants can adapt to a bit of sun during the day while other grasses will become sunburnt. In the hot southern regions, even full sun grasses benefit from shade during the brightest part of the day.
Once site considerations have been accommodated, the size and growth habit of the plant are the next thing to take into account.
Many grasses perform well in either partial or full sun. Partial shade often means the shade is during just part of the day or it can be a dappled light area. Some good selections might be Japanese forest grass or sedge plants. These all need moist soil to thrive but can withstand either full or partial light locations.
In warm climates, cool season grasses that usually grow in full sun become shade loving ornamental grass. Some examples of this type of plant are tufted hairgrass, striped tuber oat grass and crinkled hairgrass. Other partial shade selections to consider include:
Full shade locations can look dreary and benefit from plant selections that brighten the area with variegation or warm colors. Golden lilyturf is a stellar performer in both full shade and partial shade locations. Mondo grasses are delicate little plants that make excellent borders or mass plantings and can be used as ground cover in shade locations.
Variegated river oats has arching foliage with appealing striping. Similarly, Hakone grass, which produces blades in a soft, gentle yellow, will brighten dark corners. Sweet flag is one of the better options for a shady pond or consistently wet area. Other ornamental grass that grows in shade areas are:
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Read more about Ornamental Grass
Adding ornamental grass to your landscape provides beauty, texture, movement, and sometimes even sound. Despite the name ornamental grasses, not all cultivators offer long, narrow, green blades of grass. There is a wide array of foliage choices, ranging from green and blue to a deep red, burgundy, and many other shades in between.
With all of the different species available to choose from, deciding on the best ones to use when designing a drought-tolerant landscape is nearly impossible. Luckily, not all ornamental grasses can grow in all USDA Hardiness Zones, which narrows the choices.
Whether or not they grow in a well-behaved clump or quickly spreads across the beds is another significant factor that gardeners use to narrow down the options.
No matter how you decide to narrow it down, the one thing to always consider is what purpose you want the ornamental grasses to serve in your landscape.