Cool Grasses for Container Garden Simplicity

hair grass2
Dynamic pots of Mexican hair grass had a simple yet striking accent to this patio garden.

“In character, in manner, in style, in all things, the supreme excellence is simplicity.”  Longfellow penned this well over a century ago, yet it’s more relevant than ever today.  If the stark white room with its Spartan decor and tactile organic accents seems like heaven to you, then perhaps its time to take it all outside.  Blend the new look of minimal organic contemporary or country with just the right plants to create the ultimate experience – not of color – but of texture.  Eschew big and bold for fine-textured foliage that is not only carefree but incredibly dramatic.  Explore the animated character of the grasses and reeds that come alive in a breeze and speak in the language of spiky shadow when lighted after dark.

Stiff, upright rushes grow best in substantial pots able to hold a little water.

Grassy Plants for Containers

Fine-textured plants include rushes, reeds, sedges, and ornamental grasses. There are suitable candidates for virtually every climate zone, with plenty of native species from which to choose. What separates the ornamental grasses are their outstanding wind-pollinated flower spikes that are the highlight of the summer and autumn garden.  These plants offer a great opportunity to plant pots, both contemporary or traditional, to accent important points in your porch, patio, courtyard, or landscape.

Container choice is important, too. Think of using big pots where expansive spaces visually gobble up smaller containers.  Lean toward exquisitely matched glazes and unique pot forms for exceptional interest up close on a  roof garden or deck.  For simplicity, nothing is better.

Ornamental grasses and reeds differ in their flexibility.  Grasses are animated even by the slightest breeze.  Reeds are stiffer and more coarse in texture.  They give a sense of water or moisture while grasses suggest open dunes and meadows.  It’s important to know the look you’re after before selecting your fine-textured specimens.

Potting Grasses

Like lawn grasses, these plants are nitrogen lovers.  When planting them in pots, they fill out quickly and retain optimal coloring with high-quality fertile potting soil with a long term nitrogen supply.  Black Gold All Purpose Potting Soil with Controlled Release Fertilizer offers the ideal slow feed for getting your potted specimens off to a great start.

corkscrew rush
Corkscrew rush looks outstanding in practically any container.

Some grassy plants form bunches and others spread by underground runners. Either way, the light airy quality of good potting soil encourages them to fill the pot quickly. For instant gratification, select large pots that hold a 2 or 5 gallon specimen large enough to produce substantial flower heads.  The fluffier they are overall, the more they’ll arch and sway in the breeze.

For big bold grasses, look for Pennisetum in droughty climes or Miscanthus in colder ones. Smaller blue Festuca and fiber optic grass (Isolepis cernuaare outstanding in the city.  Explore the genera Juncus and Cyperus for stiffer reeds and rushes that love lots of rain and moisture. Plant potted specimens for a bold new look in your yard, to simplify formerly cluttered landscapes and bring haute contemporary looks to a simple concrete slab or wood deck.  If they outgrow these potted digs by season’s end, just plant them out in the yard and try a different species for fresh supreme excellence next year.



About Maureen Gilmer

Maureen Gilmer is celebrating her 40th year in California horticulture and photojournalism as the most widely published professional in the state. She is the author of 21 books on gardening, design and the environment, is a widely published photographer, and syndicated with Tribune Content Agency. She is the weekly horticultural columnist for the Desert Sun newspaper in Palm Springs and contributes to Desert Magazine, specializing on arid zone plants and practices for a changing climate. She works and lives in the remote high desert for firsthand observations of native species. Her latest book is The Colorful Dry Garden published by Sasquatch Books. When not writing or photographing she is out exploring the desert on her Arabian horse. She lives in Morongo Valley with her husband Jim and two rescue pit bulls. When not writing or photographing she is usually out riding her quarter horse.

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