By David Salman, High Country Gardens Founder & Chief Horticulturist
Many years ago when I first became interested in ornamental grasses, I didn't understand how to use them as a component of a landscape design. Now I use ornamental grasses all the time and have discovered how to combine them in the landscape with other plants. This seems to create a wonderful synergism that accentuates all the attributes of each plant in your garden. I'm very gratified to see a building interest in these grasses as they are proving themselves to be some of our most showy, low-maintenance, waterwise native plants.
Benefits Of Native Grass
It's important to point out that this plant category also plays an essential ecological role in our landscapes and gardens.
Grasses are an indispensable part of the habitat-friendly landscape. They are a food source for many butterfly caterpillars that feed on the leaves. They provide cover and winter protection for small animals, reptiles, and ground birds (like quail, roadrunner, and pheasants). They’re also a food source for songbirds, small mammals, and insects that feed on the seeds. They provide homes for beneficial insect species by providing cover, nesting, and overwintering protection for larvae and adults.
Native grasses offer gardeners and landscapers alternative to some species of Old World grasses that have become troublesomely weedy or invasive. By planting native ornamental grasses, we can protect wild areas and the wildlife that live there from invasive species that destroy habitats.
We can also utilize the amazing root systems of our native ornamental grasses. These extensive and often deep-reaching roots protect soils from wind and water erosion while helping to filter and purify rainwater and snowmelt as it moves through the soil down into our precious aquifers. These deep-reaching roots help to build the soil by improving aeration and providing organic material to decompose into humus.
Favorite Companion Plants
Ornamental grasses can play an important role in your garden design, providing an anchor with which to pull all the formal and informal elements of your garden into a synthesized whole. They make excellent companion plants due to the contrast they provide to flowering perennials. Take a look at some of our favorite plantings with ornamental grass and popular perennial plants, including: