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Ornamental Grasses
Companion Plants for Ornamental Grasses
by Diane Linsley

With ornamental grasses becoming more popular every year, gardeners are trying to think of ways to integrate these lovely plants into their gardens. What are the best companion plants for ornamental grasses? Will maiden grass mix with petunias?

First, consider the concept of scale. Grasses come in many sizes, from small mounds of blue fescue to towering plumes of Indian grass. Companion plants should be scaled appropriately. But that doesn't mean you should only plant 6-foot-tall flowers with your 6-foot-tall miscanthus. On the contrary, different heights give the garden a pleasing, layered look.

Another concept to consider is balance: Several small plants may be needed to balance one large plant. Don't give in to the temptation to simply plant one of everything. If you are gardening on a tight budget, choose self-sowing annuals and first-year flowering perennials to fill in quickly.

Also consider the season of bloom. Most ornamental grasses bloom in late summer to fall. Naturally, they look best paired with late-blooming flowers. But we want our gardens to look great all season. Try some early-blooming flowers and bulbs. Ornamental grasses can be used to hide dying bulb foliage.

Plan for a winter landscape. Most grasses look nice throughout winter, until they get buried by a heavy snowfall. Consider adding needled evergreens, weather-resistant garden ornaments, and flowers with attractive seed heads. Think of the winter garden as a gigantic, dried flower arrangement. Small trees and shrubs provide year-round structure (referred to as "the bones of the garden").

Finally, ornamental grasses look good with each other! Even a small garden has room for several well-placed grasses. You could combine one large Miscanthus with two or three medium-size grasses. Add some colorful flowers, and you'll have a garden that looks like it was designed by a famous landscaper. Aim for different heights, textures and colors.

Now for some flowering companion plants. I've separated these into groups of tall, medium and short flowers to go with different sizes of ornamental grasses, but feel free to mix them up. For example, you can use tall grasses as a backdrop for medium-height grasses and flowers. Then place the short ones at the front of the border.

Remember to give grasses and perennials room to grow. You can fill in the gaps with annuals to make the garden look lush until the perennials reach their mature sizes. 

Companion Plants for Tall Grasses

These flowers look good with grasses that grow 5-7 feet tall like Miscanthus and Feather Reed Grass.

Agastache rupestris -- Blooms in late summer. Attracts hummingbirds.
Antirrhinum braun-blanquetii -- Long-blooming, light yellow snapdragon.
Aster azureus -- Fall-blooming perennial with blue flowers.
Baptisia australis -- Shrubby perennial with blue flowers. Native wildflower.
Callirhoe involucrata -- Native perennial with vivid reddish-purple flowers.
Centranthus ruber -- Bushy perennial with pinkish-red or white flowers.
Cleome -- Tall stems of pink, purple or white flowers. Annual.
Cosmos -- Popular annual in a variety of colors and sizes.
Digitalis ferruginea -- Like a tall exclamation point in the garden.
Echinacea (Purple Coneflower) -- A classic companion plant. Native.
Eryngium amethystinum -- Wonderful for adding texture. 
Eupatorium (Joe-Pye Weed) -- Tall, native perennial with mauve flowers.
Gaura -- A terrific filler with pinkish-white flowers.
Gypsophila pacifica -- Large, bushy filler with tiny, pale pink flowers.
Hardy Hibiscus -- Huge, showy flowers on shrub-like plants.
Knautia -- Long-blooming filler with purplish-red pincushion flowers.  
Liatris pycnostachya -- A vertical accent with purple flowers. Native.
Lychnis chalcedonica -- Bright red flowers on tall stems.
Nepeta 'Blue Infinity' -- Large, bushy perennial with violet-blue flowers.
Perovskia (Russian Sage) -- Bushy perennial with lavender-blue flowers. 
Ratibida pinnata -- Tall, native perennial with drooping, yellow petals.
Rudbeckia -- Daisy-like flowers in warm colors. Annual or perennial.
Salvia azurea -- Tall perennial with azure blue flowers in fall.
Verbena bonariensis -- Tall clusters of purple flowers. Reseeding annual.
Solidago nemoralis (Goldenrod) -- Yellow flowers in late summer to fall.

Companion Plants for Medium-Size Grasses

Try these with grasses that grow 2-4 feet tall like Big Bluestem, Little Bluestem, Pennisetum, Mexican Feather Grass, Northern Sea Oats and Switch Grass.

Coreopsis -- Golden-yellow or brick red flowers. Annual wildflower.
Dalea purpurea -- Interesting purple flowers. Native perennial wildflower.
Daylily -- Summer-blooming perennial. Many colors to choose from.
Gaillardia 'Bremen' -- For an instant southwestern look.
Geum 'Mrs. Bradshaw' -- Scarlet-red flowers. Long-blooming perennial.
Hyssopus officinalis -- Drought-tolerant herb with vivid blue flowers.
Lavatera trimestris -- Annual filler with large flowers in pink or white.
Penstemon -- Blooms in early summer. Foliage and seed pods are nice in fall.
Petunia integrifolia -- Wild species look best with ornamental grasses. Annual.
Platycodon 'Hakone Blue' (Balloon Flower) -- Double blue flowers.
Ratibida columnifera (Mexican Hat) -- Perfect for the prairie look.
Salvia -- Perennials and annuals in various colors.
Scabiosa ochroleuca -- White pincushion flowers. Perennial filler.
Zinnia -- Late summer-blooming annual in a wide range of colors.

Companion Plants for Short Grasses

These flowers are useful for edging, or for planting in the rock garden, along with grasses that grow 1-2' tall like Blue Fescue, Prairie Dropseed and Sedge.

Aethionema schistosum -- Fragrant pink flowers. Drought tolerant.
African Daisy -- Drought-tolerant annual with bright flowers.
Campanula carpatica -- Blue bellflowers on short plants.
Cosmidium 'Philippine' -- Unusual color. Long-blooming annual.
Dianthus 'Flashing Lights' -- Mat-forming perennial with crimson flowers.
Dianthus pinifolius -- A little gem for the edge of the garden.
Ipomopsis rubra -- Scarlet red flowers for attracting hummingbirds.
Lavender 'Lady' -- Compact mounds of violet-blue flowers. Fragrant.
Limonium 'Blue Diamond' -- Dwarf perennial statice. Lavender-blue flowers.
Scutellaria resinosa -- Intriguing blue flowers. Drought-tolerant perennial.
Viola -- Self-sowing, short-lived perennial for filling in the gaps.


Related Articles
Drought-Tolerant Flowers -- Save water and still have a beautiful garden.
Cottage Garden Design -- How to design a garden for year-round interest.
Companion Plants for Roses -- Flowers to enhance your rose garden.


Recommended Books
Gardening with Grasses by Michael King and Piet Oudolf
Designing with Plants by Piet Oudolf and Noel Kingsbury


Gardening Articles


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