Echinacea, Ornamental Grass, and Salvia flowersEchinacea, Ornamental Grass, and Salvia flowers
Echinacea, Ornamental Grass, and Salvia

Native Ornamental Grasses and Companion Plants

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:

Savlia azurea, Salvia greggii, and Blue Grama Grass in full bloom in the gardenSavlia azurea, Salvia greggii, and Blue Grama Grass in full bloom in the garden
Savlia azurea, Salvia greggii, and Blue Grama Grass create a striking combination.
European Caradonna Salvia adds contrast to native purple coneflowers and billowy Muhly grass.European Caradonna Salvia adds contrast to native purple coneflowers and billowy Muhly grass.
European Caradonna Salvia adds contrast to native purple coneflowers and billowy Muhly grass.
Pink Flamingo Muhly Grass, Blonde Ambition Blue Grama Grass, and Salvia blooming in garden togetherPink Flamingo Muhly Grass, Blonde Ambition Blue Grama Grass, and Salvia blooming in garden together
Pink Flamingo Muhly Grass, Blonde Ambition Blue Grama Grass, and Salvia capture the autumn afternoon light perfectly.
Chrysothamnus (Rabbitbrush), Pink Flamingo Muhly Grass, and Ava AgastacheChrysothamnus (Rabbitbrush), Pink Flamingo Muhly Grass, and Ava Agastache
Layers of fall colors with Chrysothamnus (Rabbitbrush), Pink Flamingo Muhly Grass, and Ava Agastache.
Blonde Ambition Blue Grama Grass with colorful blue Salvia, pink Agastache, and yellow Zinnia grandiflora.Blonde Ambition Blue Grama Grass with colorful blue Salvia, pink Agastache, and yellow Zinnia grandiflora.
Blonde Ambition Blue Grama Grass paired with colorful blue Salvia, pink Agastache, and yellow Zinnia grandiflora.
Blonde Ambition and Agastache blooming in the gardenBlonde Ambition and Agastache blooming in the garden
Blonde Ambition and Agastache are two native perennials that pair perfectly for bold color and texture that last well into the late season.

Get This Look In Your Garden! Shop Native Ornamental Grass

Shop Favorite Companion Plants

by David Salman

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 grass and non-grass. Sorghastrum (Indian Grass), Panicum (Switch Grass), Bouteloua (Grama), Schizachyrium (Little Bluestem), Andropogon (Big Bluestem), Sporobolus (Sacaton or Dropseed) and Muhlenbergia (Muhly Grass) are genera that contain many of our most showy native ornamental grasses. 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 care, water thrifty native plants. Some of my favorite species and cultivars of these grasses from this list above include;'Llano' (pronounced ya' - no) Indian Grass (Sorghastrum),
'Shenandoah' and 'Heavy Metal' Switch Grasses (Panicum),
Side oats and Blue Grama (Bouteloua),
'Prairie Blues' Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium),
Wright's Giant Sacaton (Sporobolus),
'Mega Blue' Big Bluestem (Andropogon),
'Pink Flamingo' and Reverchon's Muhly (Muhlenbergia reverchonii)
When combining cacti, succulents, flowering perennials and woody plants with these ornamental grasses, I like to try and contrast textures, forms and colors to bring out the best attributes of the plants being planted together.Cacti and Succulents; some of the most interesting characteristics of cacti and succulents are their forms; they are wonderful living sculptures that provide an element of garden art.
Late Season Flowering Perennials; combining late summer and fall blooming perennials and native grasses, provides an opportunity to combine and contrast colors and textures. The wonderful combinations are practically endless.
Native Shrubs; combining low growing, groundcover-like shrubs like 'Gro Low' Sumac (Rhus aromatica) with the large growing native grasses like Wright's Sacaton (Sporobolus wrightii) contrasts form, texture and fall color.
Here are a few photos that illustrate some of these design ideas;Beavertail Cactus (Opuntia basilaris v. aurea) with Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis)
'Ava' Hummingbird Mint (Agastache) with Indian Grass (Sorghastum nutans)
Havard's Agave (Agave havardiana) with Silky Threadgrass (Nassella tenuissima)