Ornamental Grasses

Ornamental grasses are becoming a must in today’s gardens. Use them in variety of ways to add soft sweeps to informal gardens, and to add shape and structure to contemporary ones.

These days, there are so many interesting grasses to choose from. However, it is a good idea to find out if the plant is water thirsty or not, if it requires a shady spot, the best way to use it in design and finally, is it too invasive for your garden?

 Popular grasses found at nurseries


This is a small yellow grass that prefers speckled shade and is quite water thirsty. At times, it can be tricky to grow.

Blood grass

This is a red-coloured grass that grows well in the sun and moist conditions. It can look a bit messy at times, so requires a bit of maintenance.


Carex is often known as sedge grass, and comes in a variety of colours and forms; Frosted curls, Red rooster and Bronco carex are the most common species. These grasses love the sun and are not as water thirsty as most. They also look great in containers!

Wild iris

The evergreen, Dietes grandiflora, is an indigenous and very water wise plant with iris-like white flowers. It is easy to grow and looks great when used as focal points or as a hedge.


These small spiky-looking clumps come in a variety of colours including grey, blue and green. They prefer partial shade and are not very water wise.


Part of the rush family, these grasses are slowly being introduced to Zimbabwe. In general, they have long spiky needles, but there are some spirally ones too. A few species of this grass don’t require much water, but most of them need moist conditions and should be grown by ponds. Please enquire at the nursery when you buy a juncus.


This shade-loving grass grows to about 30cm high, and also comes in a variegated species. They are somewhat more water wise than most ornamental grasses.


Lemongrass is a great grass to have in the veggie garden, and it adds height and interest to flower beds. It is perfect for containers and hedges, too.


This all-time favourite ground cover loves partial shade, but it can also cope well in the sun. This grass always looks good when planted en masse. The next time you buy mondo, divide it and plant it 10cm apart; it might take a while to spread, but it will be more water efficient than having just one plant. Keep a look out for the shorter mondo grass and the black mondo, too, even though the black one is harder to grow.

 Pampas grass

Pampas grass, (Cortaderia jubata and Cortaderia selloana), is much-loved around Zimbabwe as the perfect water wise grass, but grow it with caution, as it spreads and overtakes our natural vegetation. It can also get messy when it spreads it seeds over the garden.

Pennisetum species

Pennisetum species are used widely in Zimbabwe, as they are water wise and hardy. Fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum) and Feathertop (Pennisetum villosum) are known for their tendencies to produce thick infestations that interfere with the regeneration of native plant species. Because they generally grow faster than the native species, grow this grass with caution. Hybrids like the Pennisetum setaceum rubrum are not invasive and are a much better option for the garden!


Vertiver is widely used in rural areas to prevent soil erosion and it is also used to improve soil compatibility. This tall grass is useful for hedging and planting on slopes to prevent run-off as well as erosion.

Zebra grass

This fun-looking striped grass loves the sun and is easy to grow.


Designing with grasses

Not only are most grasses easy to maintain, but they can also be used in most informal and formal contemporary gardens. In fact, ornamental grasses are becoming extremely trendy worldwide and can create quite an impact if landscaped correctly.

 Plant ornamental grasses en masse

To get a natural grassy look that blows in the wind, plant grass in clusters; they rarely occur in isolated clumps in the wild. Another good reason to plant them en masse is because the grass is more water wise when the soil is covered and it can act as natural mulch. Mondo and liriope, in particular, are less water hungry when planted in clumps than when they are planted singularly.

Use ornamental grasses as a filler

The easiest way to use grass in the garden is as a filler. The smaller grasses are attractive when they are placed at the front of the bed and blend into a lawn. The height of the sedges allows them to fit merrily into the middle of the bed, while the taller grasses anchor and complement the bed at the back with their height. Just remember to plant several plants together in odd numbers, and not one on its own.

Get that contemporary look

If you have a modern house, it is best to keep the garden in the same context. Planting ornamental grass in straight lines keeps it simple, and is also a very popular trend in contemporary gardens.

Grassy ground covers

Neat little tuft grasses, such as carex, mondo, liriope and festuca, make fantastic ground covers in larger areas. If you want to replace part of your lawn in order to get a green and lush look throughout the year, use smaller grasses. Lindsay Charters has replaced part of her lawn with hen and chicken and mondo grass – the kids can still run on it, too!

 Planting in pots

For a contemporary look, use one type of grass in a pot, but make sure to use a pot that is proportionate to the size of the grass. For a more traditional colourful pot, grasses can be used as a filler to add contrast or height.

Get the meadow look

To get the meadow look, use a variety of medium grasses; throw in a few indigenous ones, too, as well as dainty flowers such as poppies, bulbinella, gaura, salvia, corn flowers, echinacea and Shasta daisies. Add in focal points like a statue, small tree or rocks.

 Focal points

Taller structured grasses are perfect to use as a focal point in a bed. If you have a sweep of grass, it is a good idea to have a focal point like flax, a cycad, an old tree trunk or even a statue.


 Propagation and maintenance

Grasses generally deliver on low maintenance and high style, but it is a good idea to dethatch your grass every now and again. This means you will need to comb through your grass with a rake and remove any dead debris to reinvigorate the grass. Grasses are very easily divided if you want to propagate more. If you remove your grass to divide it, this is an ideal time to add more compost to the area. Don’t forget to plant the grasses closely together and mulch in between to make the grass more water wise.




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