Wild about grasses

By | May 14, 2016


Strap-like leaves that sway in the slightest breeze and the variety of attractive forms are two of the reasons ornamental grasses are so popular.

Ornamental grasses include both true grasses and plants with a grass-like appearance such as indigenous ratios, water-loving sedges (cyperus) and rushes (Juncus), plants in the lily family like Ophiopogon spp. (better known as mondo grass) and Liriope spp. Most are perennial and either clump or spread.

Clumping grasses gradually increase in diameter and arc easy to contain while creeping grasses spread by means of rhizomes. Vigorous varieties should be kept under control by planting them in containers sunk in the ground or just cut back when necessary. Whichever type you prefer, grasses will give your garden a lush, textured feel.


• They’re versatile, grow virtually anywhere and are suited to all types of landscapes including cottage, water-wise and contemporary surroundings.

• They’re a quick and easy way to fill up spaces.

• They sway, nod and ripple in the slightest breeze, making a restful, rustling sound.

• The wide variation in form will give your garden structure. Choose from elegant dumps with vertical spikes, willowy fountains, compact domes or spiky tussocks. Add interest with smooth, sandpapery,  felt-like or corrugated textures.

• Variety in size means they can be used as groundcovers, tall screening plants and eye-catching local points.

• Their long strap-like leaves provide a contrast to broad-leafed shrubs and perennials.

• They’re low maintenance and virtually disease and pest free.

• Use them for year-round colour in your garden. Apart from shades of green, some like Japanese blood grass (Imperata  cylindrica ‘Rubra’), have red leaves, others yellow or gold, while many arc steel grey or silver. Vertically and horizontally striped varieties also add interest.

• Their attractive seed heads look beautiful in late summer and autumn. Natal red top (Melinis repens) is an indigenous favourite.

• Many attract wildlife. Birds feed on the seeds (Setaria megaphylls) with its corrugated leaves is a good seed producer) and use the grass for nesting while several are hosts to butterfly larvae.



With new forms every year being released, the best method to narrow your alternative down will be to consider how, where and why you’d like to include them in your landscape.

• Match the plants to your climate zone, the soil in your garden and the position you’ll plant them in.

• Choose plant sizes to fit your setting.

• Ensure they’ll create the effect you have in mind, whether it’s a meadow or cottage-garden look or something more dramatic and modern.

• Decide whether to plant them massed in natural curves and drifts for a loose, informal look, or singly, in groups or even as matching pairs for a local point.



Numerous grasses like common pampas grass, fountain grass (Pennisetum) and Stipa terniisima syn. Nassella tenuissima are stated invaders. Choose indigenous Aristida junciformis or Ngongoni three -awn grass instead.


• Take into account that some grasses are evergreen and look good for most of the year. Others come into their own in late summer with attractive flower heads and seed heads and coloured leases in autumn. Most of the deciduous types die back in winter and can look a hit tatty. If this is a problem, plant them in between evergreen shrubs – you can simply cut back dead leaves and the shrubs will hide them.

• Regular feeding and watering ensures that plants grow well and look healthy.

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