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Ornamental grasses at Bluestem Nursery


Plant Spacing for Ornamental Grasses

From our newsletters:

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to spacing grasses. Smaller grasses (Bouteloua gracilis, the Fescues, Koeleria) are easy to plant and to transplant when they start to crowd each other. However larger grasses (the tall prairie grasses - Panicum, Sorghastrum,
Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster'
Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster' in Minneapolis
Photo credit R Evan Easton

Andropogon as well as Miscanthus) take a lot more effort to dig up once they are firmly established. So perhaps a rule-of-thumb for spacing the taller grasses would be to consider the mature height of the foliage and divide that number in half. For example: if Festuca mairei is expected to grow to approximately 120 cm (44") in height, then dividing that number in half gives you a spacing distance of 60 cm or 24". Yet, for some this formula may still look too sparse.

For the most part, it comes down to personal taste and what you want in a landscape. Landscape architects often space grasses farther apart, so the plants create a pattern and the form of each is visible. Bold romanic designers want a garden that is packed with colour and texture with no soil visible. Still others desire the impact made by large drifts of grasses, all touching to form the famous Amber Wave look.

A dense planting discourages weeds and shades the soil, reducing evaporation.

To sum up:

  • try to balance the budget with your personal taste
  • consider the purpose for the area
    • if for erosion control, a more dense planting is required
    • a June wedding or a summer garden tour will need an established look right away
    • for expanding into other areas, grasses can be taken from a densely planted area
  • remember the time and energy spent on removing overly crowded grasses is far less for the smaller types.

And here is a handy piece of information: In the first year grasses sleep, in the second year they creep, and in the third year this leap (this is especially true of warm season grasses).