Ornamental grasses are a great addition to any landscape. They add texture, color, form and interest. Grasses need the same types of maintenance as other landscape plants—water, fertilizer, pruning and division—but generally require much less of it.
As with all types of plants, consider the site conditions of your landscape: sun, shade, mature size (height and spread) for placement purposes, soil pH, soil moisture and soil texture.
Other considerations when selecting plant material include annual or perennial, evergreen or deciduous, warm or cool season, growth form (creeping or clumping), foliage color, time of flowering, winter characteristics and invasive potential.
The ornamental grasses below thrive in central Florida.
Muhly grass. Muhlenbergia capillaris, a native plant, reaches a height of 3 to 4 feet and a spread of 2 to 3 feet. It prefers full sun, can tolerate extreme drought and flooding, has moderate salt tolerance, and works well in wetland sites and beachfront landscapes. Any type of soil texture is acceptable, from clay loam to sandy loam, from sand to sandy clay. Muhly grass has narrow foliage and produces pink/purple fall flowers. It is used as a border, accent, in mass plantings and with cut flowers.
Fakahatchee grass. Tripsacum dactyloides, another native, reaches a height and spread of 4 to 6 feet. It prefers full sun, does well in partial shade/partial sun, and tolerates flooding and standing water. Fakahatchee grass produces cream/yellow/orange/red flowers from spring through summer and is food for the Byssus Skipper butterfly. This ornamental grass requires minimal maintenance, which consists of pruning once a year, in late winter or early spring before you see new shoot growth.
Purple fountain grass. Pennisetum setaceum “Rubrum” can reach a height of 4 to 6 feet and a spread of 2 to 4 feet. It prefers full sun. This grass needs soil pH that is acidic to slightly alkaline, from 4.5 to 7.2. It has moderate drought tolerance and needs well drained soil moisture. Purple fountain grass has narrow purple leaves with purple-pink or copper flowers in summer and fall. This is an excellent ornamental grass when used in mass plantings, containers, as an accent, border or cut flowers. It can reseed into surrounding areas, which could be a good or bad thing, depending on your location and preference.
Several years ago, I planted these ornamental grasses around my pool enclosure because the hedge that existed was performing poorly. I’m happy with the look and minimal maintenance requirements.
All of these grasses are easy to divide and share with your friends and neighbors. Once established, irrigation may not be needed at all.
You can consider annual fertilization, but these plants generally obtain enough nutrients from the soil. You may want to submit a soil sample to your local cooperative extension office for pH testing.
For more information on Florida-Friendly Landscaping, visit ffl.ifas.ufl.edu.