Masses of grasses. What a pretty sight. You can create a landscape based on beautiful, versatile grasses that will wow even the most jaded critic. We’re not talking about the water-hogging, maintenance-needy natural lawn grass that used to be so popular. We’re talking about drought tolerant ornamental varieties that thrive without much water and require only minimal tending.
What’s so great about grasses?
They’re graceful, producing that “amber waves of grain” effect in your landscape. The narrow blades and flowering plumes wave gently in the slightest breeze, creating not just a sense of movement, but the real thing. Grasses whisper and rustle as they move – as if they’re telling you their secrets.
All that movement and softness makes grasses an ideal contrast for hardscapes in your landscape.
Ornamental grasses come in colors. Who needs green, when you can get gray, or bronze, or red, or the palest blond? Or subtly variegated leaves with white edges. Or snappy horizontal stripes.
Drought tolerant grasses also come in small, medium, and large. For example:
- Miscanthus grows 4 to 6 feet tall. Choose zebra grass (with those snappy yellow bands) or maiden grass that turns copper-color in the fall. The popular pampas grass grows even taller, but it can be invasive – all over the neighborhood, not only in your yard. A more polite (and equally statuesque) option? Silvery blue panic grass, with its pretty pink flowers. Birds love it, too.
- For something mid-size, blue oat grass produces gray-blue mounds up to 3 feet, with slightly taller oat-like flower plumes. A stunning contrast? The warm, rusty-red color of leatherleaf sedge, whose thin, 2-foot blades have curlicued tips.
- One of the most popular grasses is fescue, especially the variety Elijah Blue, which grows just 8-12 inches tall and looks like a miniature blue oat grass.
Many smaller and mid-size grasses are lovely companion plants, or on their own in containers.
Not just another pretty face
Ornamental grasses are the definition of easy care. Even the most drought tolerant will require regular watering until they get established – usually the first year. After that, they can thrive on their own, although they may need a little help from you if the weather gets extremely hot or we get into another extended drought.
Be aware that some grasses are prone to self-sowing. You might like to have seedlings you can reposition elsewhere in your landscape, but more likely you’ll come to think of them as weeds. So ask the pros at your local nursery which varieties are least likely to over-populate your yard. You can also prevent seedlings by deadheading your grasses. But those wonderful plumy inflorescences are exactly what most gardeners hope for – visual impact that lasts through the fall and winter.
Nonetheless . . . family fun requires the other kind of grass
As versatile as ornamental grasses can be, you may still want a traditional lawn for its unique visual effect. Or for a barefoot-friendly play surface. And there’s a drought tolerant solution for that, too. Artificial grass fills the bill beautifully, no matter the size, shape, or terrain challenges of your space.
Grass is just the beginning
Extraordinary as they are, most likely you’ll want more than just ornamental grasses in your drought tolerant landscape. So what goes well with grass? Get lots of great ideas, specifically suited for our South Bay Area climate, here.