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Growing ornamental grasses in a container

If ornamental grasses are becoming landscape staples, they are a definite trend for container plantings as well. They can fulfill a range of decorative needs; imagination is key! Quick-maturing annuals and perennials grown as annuals are an excellent choice.

Advantage: you can feature grasses while keeping them "contained." No worries about them spreading where you don't want them, and they're much easier to divide when they outgrow their containers.

Disadvantage: plants in containers are less hardy, basically by two zones. If that makes it impossible to keep certain plants outside during the winter, you have the option of bringing them inside.

Healthy grasses

Follow these simple tips for designing a container garden that will do you and your plants justice.

The right container:

Good drainage is vital. Must be wide enough for arching growth habits. Lighter coloured containers will evaporate excess moisture, and that is important for grasses that require drier conditions. Otherwise, the choice is yours!

Balanced potting soil:

Don't be stingy, quality, balanced potting soil will pay dividends.

The right plants:

For stunning results, combine textures, colours and layers. Include plants in your container garden with contrasting features. One tall (ornamental grass), one bushy, and one trailing! If you're going to pair plants, it's important that plants have the same growing conditions and water requirements.

Pampering your plants:

As a general rule, water deeply but not often. "Woodland" grasses need a moister environment. Compost around the base of the plant once per year. Every two years, remove the grass from the container, divide, and replace the soil

A few plants to consider

Leymus arenarius

A spreading-type grass that is tough to control in the garden but very manageable as a container plant. Striking steel-blue foliage grows to 2-3 feet. Blue-grey flower spikes shoot up in the summer. Hardy to zone 4. Winter interest.

Helictotrichon sempervirens

Highly decorative fountain-like clump of thin, spikey leaves. Grows to 2-3 feet. Needs plenty of sun but very little maintenance. Hardy to zone 4.

Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum'

Super container grass with burgundy-shaded foliage and purplish flower spikes. Arching habit and a natural focal point. Technically a tropical ornamental grass, but is considered a perennial in zone 5.

Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola'

A grass that does best in full shade and moist conditions. Golden striped leaves that turn a gorgeous copper-orange in the fall. Hardy to zone 5.

Isolepis cernua

Bright green, small white flowers at stem tips. Native to North America and hardy to zone 8, so grow as an annual. Great as a filler plant.

Pennisetum 'First Knight'

Annual, this new pennisetum forms a tuft of very upright leaves in the center, and arched around the plant. Its blackish foliage is the darkest in the series. It loves heat and gets darker and colorful as the season progresses. It can reach 120 to 150 cm (48 to 60 in).

Carex Siderosticha 'Banana Boat'

Exceptional deciduous sedge perfect to brighten up shaded corner of the garden. Bright banana yellow foliage features green stripe and margins. Striking in containers. Hardy to zone 4.