Ornamental grasses add texture, form, color, and movement to your landscape. Plus, they look great all summer—into late fall! Ornamental grasses are versatile, hardy, and fairly low-maintenance…making them one of the most frequently requested additions to Maine gardens. Here’s what we love most about using ornamental grass in Maine landscapes:
Distinctive & Versatile
They beautifully complement or contrast perennial flowers in planting beds and also act as distinctive accents and focal points all their own. They really shine at the end of summer and into autumn, when most annuals and perennials fade.
Tolerant & Low-Maintenance
Ornamental grasses tolerate a diverse set of growing conditions, such a drought or boggy, wet areas, full sun and partial shade. They’re fairly resilient to cold temperatures and low maintenance.
Create Peaceful, Private Sanctuaries
Tall ornamental grasses in groupings make perfect natural screens for privacy alcoves in your yard, typically taking only two seasons to reach full bloom. Their tall slender stalks and wispy plumes invoke peace and relaxation.
Good For the Environment
Native varieties provide habitat and food for birds, yet they’re naturally resistant to small garden critters and white-tailed deer. Their thick root structure minimizes soil erosion.
Here are some of our top choices for ornamental grasses and how we’re using them in our clients’ landscapes.
1. Feather Reed Grass (Karl Foerster)
Feather Reed Grass, known for its tall, upright green stalks topped with feather like sandy brown plumes that sway in the breeze, is reminiscent of wild-growing switch grass growing along Maine’s coast. Perhaps that’s why it’s one of the most popular of the ornamental grasses in Maine gardens. Plus, it grows easily and is hardy, tolerating a wide range of conditions—even clay and difficult wet soil, sun or partial shade. Many homeowners ask us to plant this as a backdrop or focal point amid flowering shrubs and roses or massing as a screen to create private garden nooks.
It has a nice architectural shape, grows upright, reaching heights of 6’, and makes a pleasant natural looking informal hedge, that’s attractive year-round. Plus, it’s a low maintenance clump-forming, non-invasive ornamental grass that will not spread—making it a favorite among our commercial clients and municipalities too.
2. Maiden Grass (Gracillimus)
Maiden Grass is known for it’s graceful arching shape and fine-textured, silver-green blades. Around first-frost, leaves turn golden-bronze, enhancing its surroundings and attracting birds. Typical growth height is 5’.
Our clients often request this ornamental grass in their perennial beds or to soften hardscapes like stone walls and patios. It’s one of our favorites to use in wild, natural looking gardens, like those with dry stream beds where it blends nicely with the hues of stones or as a layer, adding depth to areas with larger flowering shrubs in garden alcoves.
Municipalities and commercial properties love this specimen for its erosion control.
3. Porcupine Grass (Miscanthus Sinensis ‘Stricus’)
One of the most distinctive looking ornamental grasses is Porcupine Grass, which is likely why it tops our clients’ wish lists. This ornamental upright grass has soft yellow horizontal banding on its narrow green blades, as if it’s perpetually dappled in filtered sun. Between this unique coloring and its pointed leaf blades that tend to stick out at angles, some say it resembles porcupine quills.
Its a great choice for adding texture to perennial beds and borders, near gates or in smaller courtyards too. Many clients request this ornamental grass near water features, around patios, and rock outcroppings. Porcupine grass is especially popular in landscapes around swimming pools, since they add visual interest, yet they don’t attract bees like many flowering bushes.
Commercial clients like to use porcupine grass as an accent, tucking it throughout different parts the landscape, tying together disparate areas of the same property.
Porcupine grass prefers full sun, but can will also grow in partial shade, typically preferring wet, well-drained soil.
4. Fountain Grass (Pennisetum Hamelin)
Everyone, including birds, love the soft “foxtail” flowers atop the beautifully splayed fine green blades of fountain grass that resemble — you guessed it — water springing from a fountain. Its foliage turns a rust gold in autumn and a pale blonde in winter, making it a nice addition to both fresh and dried autumnal flower arrangements. It’s hard to believe a plant this lovely is so adaptable, growing in heat and drought as well as wet soil areas.
Typically growing 2’ high, it’s a wonderful addition to flower beds, borders, and rocky outcroppings alike. Most recently clients have been requesting fountain grass plantings around patios and fire pit seating. We like to see it in mixed gardens with hydrangeas and other flowering shrubs as well.
5. Purple Fountain Grass (Pennisetum Setaceum “Rubrum”)
Popular because of its mounding burgundy foliage and arcing sprays of soft purple plumes that add steadfast color to spaces all summer through late autumn. It’s a local favorite mixed amid evergreen gardens, flowerbeds, terraced gardens and sloped landscapes to prevent erosion.
Typically growing to a maximum of 4 feet tall, purple fountain grass adds affordable color when planted in front of taller evergreen screens. Perhaps this is why it’s commonly requested by our commercial clients for their outdoor patios and break areas created for employees.
While this ornamental grass is technically a perennial, in Maine climates it performs like an annual, so it’s not likely to grow in subsequent years.
The biggest differences in the ornamental grasses are in their growth form. When deciding which ones you’d like to add to your landscape, consider their varying characteristics such as purpose, soil and sunlight conditions, growth form (clumpers or spreaders), maturity size, and foliage color. Knowing where to start can be overwhelming—that’s why we’re here to help. After all, landscaping and hardscaping is what we do, day in and day out.
Contact us and we’d be happy to set up a phone call or virtual meeting to develop some landscaping ideas for your commercial property or personal oasis.