Grass & Sedge Comparison Chart

The Grass & Sedge Comparison Chart is a list of common ornamental grass and sedge perennials grown at Johnson's Nursery.

Easy to grow, easy to care for, easy on the eyes! Ornamental grasses have so many positives it’s hard to not incorporate them into the landscape. From a design perspective, ornamental grasses provide texture, movement, color, sound, form, definition, and winter interest.

The benefits don’t stop there! The ecological benefits are huge. Not only do ornamental grasses provide cover and food to songbirds and wildlife, many butterflies, moths, and skippers use grasses as host plants. Combined, these features make using grasses a no-brainer!

How To Use Ornamental Grasses

Define or Soften Edges

Shorter grasses such as Tara Prairie Dropseed, Autumn Moor Grass, or Blue Zinger Sedge are perfect options to define garden beds, walkways, or travel paths. They are hardy and low maintenance and can either be more formal or looser and more natural in appearance depending on the variety. Edging works best if they are planted close together so that they grow together to make a line.

Screening / Hedging

Need to hide an AC unit? Tired of watching your neighbors watch you? Grasses make brilliant screens and hedges! Tall varieties such as Big Bluestem, Karl Foerster Feather Reed Grass, or Gracillimus Maiden Grass, spaced appropriately, will do the trick nicely. As the seasons change, so do their colors – a visual delight and ever-changing feature! Keep them up over winter to provide contrasting colors and seed heads, and cut back in spring to promote growth.

Grasses Add Texture

Pair grasses with delicate seed heads, like Shenandoah Switch Grass, with coarser, wider-leaved plants to add textural contrast. Softer, more mounding grasses such as Morning Light Maiden Grass balance plants that have bold textures. Plant in masses or a matrix to draw the eye in a certain direction or to punctuate landscapes.

Brighten Shady Areas

Several types of ornamental grasses thrive in shadier conditions. Eastern Star Sedge, Common Wood Sedge, Gray’s Sedge, and Muskingum Sedge, and while not native, Japanese Forest Grass and Evergold Japanese Sedge illuminate darker spaces. They look wonderful in mixed borders or planted in masses.

Stabilization / Erosion Control

With deep and fibrous root systems, grasses are great for stabilizing soil and reducing erosion. Hair-like roots take in large amounts of water, and as they decompose, add organic matter, producing rich and fertile soil. This expansive root system acts as filtration for water runoff, helping to catch pollutants before they enter groundwater.

Grasses Support Wildlife

Grasses are a wonderful way to attract birds. Blades are used for nesting material, seeds provide nourishment, and the plants themselves can provide shelter to smaller birds. Little Bluestem, Northwind, and Heavy Metal Switch Grass are staples in the diet of many sparrows, cardinals, and juncos. Many dragonflies, skippers, moths, and butterflies feed on grasses, reside inside or at the bases, and overwinter as larvae just below the surface or at the bases.

Turf Grass Alternative

Lush lawns are great looking but with climate change, drought, fertilizer, high water needs, and mowing, manicured lawns may need to go the way of the dinosaur, or at least be scaled back. A trend is happening in which portions of or broad swaths of turf are being replaced with native grasses. Pennsylvania Sedge is a great lawn substitute for dry soils in shady areas, spreading by rhizomes to form graceful swirls of emerald green. It can be mowed once or twice per year but isn’t necessary.

With so many kinds and varieties of grasses, choices are broad. We’ve broken it down for you in a handy comparison chart to help in your decision-making process. A word of caution: Once you start incorporating ornamental grasses, you won’t be able to stop!

Left: Wisconsin native Carex grayii | Middle: Miscanthus sinensis 'Purpurascens' | Right: Molina caerulea 'Variegata'

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