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Ornamental Grass for Privacy

Gardeners who want to block a neighbor’s yard or screen a patio without building a structure should consider planting perennial ornamental grasses. Unlike evergreen trees and shrubs, ornamental grasses grow very quickly, usually reaching their mature size in two seasons. Their fast growth rate makes them ideal for privacy hedges because new plants can rapidly fill in any gaps. Moreover, ornamental grasses are an economical way to achieve privacy on your property. A 2-quart pot of a common ornamental grass variety typically costs less than $10. Here are eight ornamental grasses that will add privacy and beauty to your landscape.

Ornamental Grass

When choosing an ornamental grass, first verify that the variety is hardy in your climate. Also, learn whether the grass grows in clumps or tends to spread to make sure it will fit in your planting area.

Zebra Grass
Plants with variegated foliage—foliage with a multicolored pattern—are quite popular among gardeners. The foliage of zebra grass can add both visual interest and privacy to your landscape. Under the right conditions, zebra grass can reach its lush 5-8 foot potential with a 4-6 foot spread. Its clumping habit makes it ideal to grow as a hedge. Water zebra grass regularly until it’s established. Then, it likely will only need watering during an extended dry spell. Moreover, the plant can benefit from a layer of compost each year.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 5 – 9
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • Soil Needs: Moist, well-draining, neutral pH

Hardy Clumping Bamboo
Bamboo is a grass, albeit a very large grass. Although bamboo has a reputation for being invasive in the garden, you can control this by planting the clumping type rather than those that spread by runners. Look for bamboo plants in the Fargesia genus, which are slow-growing and cold hardy. Fargesia robusta can grow up to 17 feet tall and offer great privacy. Water bamboo enough to keep it moderately moist. Fertilizer usually isn’t necessary, but a layer of compost can promote growth. Keep in mind that all bamboo will spread and can be difficult to eradicate once established.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 5 – 9
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, well-draining

Pampas Grass
​The tender variety of pampas grass, Cortaderia selloana, can be invasive in mild climates. It grows in clumps that can reach 8-12 feet tall with a 4-6 foot spread. This grass is drought tolerant and likely will only need watering during extended dry spells once it’s established. Fertilizer also usually isn’t necessary. You can find a hardier version of this plant in Saccharum ravennae, also known as plume grass or ravenna grass, which grows in zones 5 – 9.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 8 – 10
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • Soil Needs: Dry to medium moisture, well-draining

Big Bluestem
This North American native plant is a great choice for a privacy screen, growing to about 6 feet tall with a 2-3 foot spread. If you had lived in the Midwest 200 years ago, you would have seen large swaths of big bluestem covering most of the prairie. Neither deer nor drought​ can faze this tough grass. Plant it in a sunny spot, and it will adapt to a range of soil conditions. Water young plants regularly. Established plants are fairly drought tolerant and don’t usually need watering.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 4 – 9
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • Soil Needs: Average, dry to medium moisture, well-draining

Feather Reed Grass
Feather reed grass, including the popular ‘Karl Foerster’ cultivar, needs above-average moisture conditions to thrive. Plus, unlike many other ornamental grasses, feather reed grass doesn’t mind heavy clay soil that drains slowly. If you have a rain garden and want a low-maintenance, medium-height screening plant, this grass can meet your needs. It grows to about 5 feet tall with a 2-foot spread. The grass will tolerate some shade, especially from the hot afternoon sun, and it’s known to attract birds. This grass prefers consistently moist soil, so regular watering often is necessary. Cut back the plant either in the fall or early spring to promote new growth.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 5 – 9
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, tolerates clay

Pink Hair Grass
Pink hair grass, or pink muhly grass, is another native beauty that gardeners can grow with little effort. The grass tops out at about 3-4 feet, making it perfect for a patio edging that provides some screening for a seating area. Showy pink flowers appear in September and linger to give the garden some winter interest. Pink hair grass tolerates lean soil and dry conditions and can help to ease erosion on slopes. When given consistent moisture, the plant can grow taller. Plus, planting it in a sheltered area in a raised bed can stretch the northern limit of its growing zone.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 5 – 9
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • Soil Needs: Sandy or rocky, dry to medium moisture, well-draining

Fountain Grass
Fountain grass adds privacy and visual interest to a landscape, thanks to its fuzzy catkins (flowering spikes). This plant does best in full sun, though it can tolerate some shade. And its foliage usually remains attractive through winter. It grows in clumps that are around 3-5 feet in both height and spread. Some dwarf cultivars exist, so check the plant tag if you want to use it for a privacy screen. Water a young plant once or twice a week until it’s established. You likely won’t have to water mature plants unless you don’t get occasional rain. Fertilizer isn’t necessary, but it can boost growth.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 6 – 9
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • Soil Needs: Average, medium to wet

Another North American native, switchgrass is an adaptable plant that grows in both moist and dry conditions. It tends to prefer sandy or clay soil and might flop in soil that is too rich. Thus, you can skip fertilizer unless you have nutrient-deficient soil. The plant grows to around 3-6 feet tall with a 2-3 foot spread, offering a moderate amount of privacy for a garden. Switchgrass also is an important plant in the ecosystem, providing oil-rich seeds for birds in winter.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 5 – 9
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • Soil Needs: Average, medium to wet

Information courtesy of TheSpruce.com

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