Try dressing up your garden with ornamental grass

by Kathy Warner
Nassau County Master Gardener My Nassau Sun Logo

Want to add beauty to your garden without adding work?

Consider planting ornamental grasses. Most species aren't picky about soil, though they appreciate good drainage. Once they're established, grasses tend to be fairly drought tolerant, and are susceptible to few pests.

In the landscape, they add new elements of color, texture, movement and sound. Ornamental grasses can provide an important textural feature during the winter when so many other plants are not at their best.

Pink muhly grass in the garden

Choose from the following varieties for Zone 8 and 9:

- Chasmanthium latifolium, know as upland sea oats or Indian wood oats, resemble true sea oats of the beach dunes. They tolerate both wet feet and dry soils, making them very versatile. In mulched beds, they tend to self sow. The clumps expand slowly, are not at all aggressive, and should be divided every few years as their vigor diminishes.

- Muhlenbergia capillaris, called Pink Muhly Grass, produces giant puffballs of cotton-candy pink in the fall. It seems to thrive on neglect, beautifully withstanding heat, humidity, drought and poor soil.

- There are many types of Pampas Grass from which to choose. Cortaderia selloana remains queen of the grasses for specimen effect, reaching 10 feet in height. There are also dwarf varieties such as C. selloana Pumila for smaller spaces. Others have pastel flowers while "silver stripe" and "gold band" have variegated leaves. But beware of purple pampas grass, C. jubata, which is invasive in warm regions. Because of sharp leaf edges, do not use pampas grass near walkways or play areas.

- Miscanthus sinensis Yaku Jima, known as maiden grass, is a compact version of popular ornamental grass. A height and width of 3 to 4 feet make it a perfect ornamental grass for smaller spaces. Yaku Jima produces attractive copper color plumes in late August, aging to bright silver in the winter.

- Pennisetum setaceum Rubrum, which is purple fountain grass, is a burgundy-hued fountain grass that has proved itself in both residential and commercial landscapes. It grows to 4 feet tall while the dwarf variety grows no taller than 2 to 3 feet.

- Pennisetum villosum, or Feathertop, has creamy green flowers that mature to a grayish white. It blooms in July and August. In some areas, it is treated as an annual, but is hardy to a temperature of 10 degrees.

Plant grasses in the spring or fall in well drained soil receiving full sun. Give plants a boost of compost or fertilizer and a deep watering. Mulch plants to help maintain soil moisture and maintain control over weeds.

Pruning should be done in late winter or early spring. Evergreen grasses (Muhly) should have only dead leaves or tips removed. Deciduous (Miscanthus) can be cut within inches of the soil. Grass clumps may die out in the center as the plant ages. If so, dig up, divide and replant the healthy piece in the original site. Then enjoy the splendor of your grasses.

Masterful Gardening runs the third Saturday of each month in My Nassau Sun. This month's column is by Master Gardener Kathy Warner, who lives on Amelia Island and is an active volunteer with the Nassau County Extension Service and the University of Florida/IFAS.

For information on the Master Gardener program, contact Becky Jordi at 548-1116 or


Master Gardener volunteers are trained by County Horticultural Extension agents and are required to serve 75 volunteer hours in year one of their accreditation and 50 volunteer hours annually in all subsequent years to maintain their certification.

Nassau County master gardeners serve under the direction of Rebecca L. Jordi, UF/IFAS Nassau County Horticultural Extension Agent. For information on the master gardener program and application requirements, contact Jordi at 548-1116 or



Kathy Warner

Kathy Warner is an Amelia Island resident and an active master gardener volunteer with the Nassau County Extension Service and the University of Florida/IFAS.