Ornamental Grasses for a Small Garden Space

Santa Fe garden designer Donna Bone recommended these five ornamental grasses as excellent options for creating soft texture and movement in the summer and autumn garden.

ornamental grass blue oat grass

Blue oat grass blooms in a flower border.

Their compact size makes these ornamental grasses especially good choices for small gardens such as the “patio meadow” that was featured by Charles Mann in Horticulture‘s September/October 2013 issue.

Donna’s favorite small-garden ornamental grasses, and her comments:

ornamental grasses featherreed grass

Feathered grass has an upright habit that suits it to small spaces.

Feathered grass (Calamagrostis xacutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’): 3 to 5 feet tall, half as wide. Medium to wet soil, full sun. Warm season. USDA Zones 5–9. “It greens early in the season, develops seed heads early and stays very upright in winter.”

Idaho fescue, blue bunchgrass (Festuca idahoensis): 15 inches tall and wide. Dry soil, full to part sun. Cool season. Zones 4–9. “It is a beautiful color in Santa Fe’s high-elevation light and it holds its form very well.”

Blue oat grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens): 2 to 3 feet tall and wide. Dry to medium soil, full sun. Cool season. Zones 4–9. “It has become quite pedestrian, but I still favor it for its size and flowing quality.”

Switch grass (Panicum virgatum ‘Cloud Nine’): 5 to 7 feet tall, half as wide. Medium to wet soil, full sun to part shade. Warm season. Zones 5–9. “It comes into its own late in the season and, with its stature, becomes a major focal point in the garden.

Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium ‘The Blues’): 2 to 4 feet tall, 2 feet wide. Dry to medium soil, full sun. Warm season. Zones 3–9. “It offers a beautiful color in summer and the fall chestnut color is great along with Sedum Angelina and the bluer grasses.”

Blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis): 1 to 2 feet tall and wide. Dry to medium soil, full sun. Warm season. Zones 3–9. “I like to use this native as the understory grass in a meadow.”

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