Choosing perennial grasses: tall and mid-size

Essential components of contemporary landscape design, perennial grasses have become very popular, and for good reason. Here are some tips for choosing the right perennial grass for your yard:

Choosing perennial grasses:  tall and mid-size

Perennial grasses are the ultimate care-free plants, enriching the landscape year-round and usually requiring only to be cut back each spring to allow for lush new growth.

  • Eulalia grass (Miscanthus sinensis) is the most widely grown ornamental grass.
  • With graceful leaves and showy flowers that often feature curling tendrils, it is the definition of elegance.
  • It is well adapted from Zone 5, and a few varieties, such as 'Purpurascens', are hardy to Zone 4.
  • All flourish in average garden soil and grow to about 1.8 metres (six feet) tall.
  • Foliage and flower colours vary.
  • The green leaves of 'Purpurascens' turn rosy red with the onset of fall.
  • 'Silver Feather' has green leaves topped by shimmering, nearly white, fan-shaped flower plumes.
  • Feather reed grass (Calamagrostis × acutiflora 'Karl Foerster') produces soldier-straight flowers above clean green foliage in late spring.
  • Best grown in moist, heavy soils, this grass makes a fine 1.5 metre (five foot) background screen for annuals and perennials from Zone 4.
  • Another tall and upright grass is switch grass (Panicum virgatum), a North American native.
  • The cultivar 'Heavy Metal' is popular for its striking blue leaf colouration, while the blades of 'Haense Herms' have a reddish cast.
  • Easily grown in Zone 4, switch grass tolerates lean soil and salt spray and reaches a height of 1.2 metres (four feet).
  • Of the midsized grasses, fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides) is especially popular.
  • It forms a neat mound, one metre (three feet) tall and wide, and produces dense, tawny, bottlebrush-shaped flowers.
  • Fountain grass takes on an attractive blond colour for fall and winter.
  • Some selections, such as the compact 'Hameln', are hardy from Zone 5.
  • The purple-leaved 'Rubrum' is often treated as an annual or grown in pots and wintered indoors because it is not reliably hardy, even in British Columbia.

A few good companion options

When choosing companions for grasses, select plants of similar stature and compatible needs.

  • Tall, summer-flowering perennials, such as Joe Pye weed and black-eyed Susan, make good partners for grasses that grow to 1.2 metres (four feet) or more in height.
  • Mid-size grasses can be paired with garden phlox, daylilies, stonecrop, or purple coneflower, while smaller grasses can be grown with flowering annuals, blanket flower, and yarrow.
  • There are also shade-tolerant grasses that look great flanked by hostas, astilbes, hellebores, and asarum.

Perennial grasses are a must-have for any serious gardener trying to improve their lawn. Their consistency and low-maintenance are sure to make any lawn look manicured and amazing. Check with your local nursery to see what kinds of grasses will grow in your area.

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