Gardening Tip ~ Ornamental Grasses for Sunny Areas

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Article by Doreen Coyne, a member of the Richmond Hill Garden & Horticultural Society.

Perhaps you have an area that is full to partial sun for which you’d like to try out some ornamental grasses. I found a lot of them while looking for those that need shade for my shaded areas of the garden. There are also several bamboo plants that can thrive in Canada.

Some of the ones I came across are simply stunning. They make great borders and if planted in a design or flow of clusters present a wonderful sight of which you may never tire.

Below are my Ornamental Grass findings for sunny areas of your gardens. These tend to grow in various soil types and enjoy dryer soil. They can grow up to 3 feet tall.

Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium)

Little Bluestem is a warm season clumping grass and is one of the defining grasses of the tallgrass prairie. It prefers dry to medium, well drained soils and can tolerate a wide range of soil types. It may not do well and the leaves will “flop over” if you plant it in too much shade or rich soils.

Little Bluestem is loved for it’s blue-green foliage and drought tolerance. It will stay green through the toughest droughts. In fall it takes on an attractive bronze hue and sports fluffy seed heads. This is a very attractive grass and evens even looks good in the winter.

The foliage of Little Bluestem feeds a variety of butterflies and its dried leaves are popular nesting materials for birds. Its seeds are also eaten by birds. Planting companions for Little Bluestem are numerous. In really dry soils, try pairing it with Butterfly Milkweed, Slender Blazing Star and Nodding Onion.

Junegrass (Koeleria macrantha)

June Grass is a cool season, clumping grass. It is usually found in dry, sandy areas but will adapt to most soils that are well-drained. It evens grows well in compacted soils, making it useful in ecological restoration.

Junegrass is valued in native plant gardens for it’s drought tolerance and blue-green foliage. It also blooms earlier than most other and produces attractive, fluffy seed heads by mid summer.  Birds will eat the seeds. Companion plants for Junegrass include Prairie Smoke, Nodding Onion, Wild Lupin or Butterfly Milkweed.

Sweetgrass (Anthoxanthum hirtum)

Sweet grass is a fragrant (smells like vanilla), low-growing, cool season grass. It spread by rhizomes and can be aggressive in moist conditions. It’s typical habitat is sunny, wet areas but it grows just as well in average moisture and light shade.

Sweetgrass is sacred to the Indigenous people of North America who burn it in ceremonies. It is also used for weaving baskets.

It can be useful in your garden as a fast-spreading groundcover. In fall, it turns attractive shades of yellow. Companion plants for this are Golden Alexanders and Canada Anemone. It also pairs well with most wetland plants.