Many ornamental grasses that can be grown in garden beds can also work well in containers.
Ornamental grasses can work very well as container plants – adding drama, height and/or visual interest to a container garden on a patio, balcony, or in another outside space. As long as you care for them correctly, watering, fertilizing, cutting pack and repotting as required, you should find that it is relatively easy to enjoy these grasses without having to grow them in the ground:
1. Anemanthele lessoniana
Hailing from New Zealand, this grass is known as pheasant’s grass – a name which reflects its drooping foliage. It naturally grows in windy environments, and does not enjoy having wet feet. So growing it in a container can be a great idea, especially if the soil is not very free draining where you live. It grows quickly, to 60-90cm in height, and lives for 3-5 years. It has foliage that is green when it emerges, but which turns yellow-tan, orange and reddish, becoming more intense during the winter months. Sprays of airy flower heads emerge in late summer. Tease out dead foliage from the clump in the container each spring.
2.. Carex (Sedges)
Though Carex are technically sedges rather than grasses, there are a great many that work extremely well instead of or alongside ornamental grasses in containers. Some examples of Carex that work very well in containers include:
- C. buchananii
- C. comans
- C. elata
- C. flagerllifera
- C. morrowi
- C. oshimensis
- C. testacea
3. Cortaderia selloana ‘Pumila’
Pampas grasses are often too large to consider growing in containers. But you can consider some options within this genus when you have a container garden and are looking for something to add drama. Cortaderia selloana ‘Pumila’ has foliage that reaches just 45cm or so in height, and sends up plumes on stems around 1.2m high in late summer. This works for larger containers and is more manageable than most Cortaderia selloana, which reach up to 2.5-3m in height.
4. Festuca glauca
If you are looking for smaller grasses for containers, then Festuca glauca (blue fescue) offers a number of excellent options. Try:
- F. glauca ‘Blaufuchs’
- ‘Elijah Blue’
- and ‘Golden Toupee’
All of the above can work very well in containers.
5. Hakonechloa ‘Aureola’
Hakonechloa is a perennial deciduous grass that can work just as well in containers as it can in garden beds or borders. There are a range of different cultivars to choose from. Aureola is just one that is a great pick for container gardens. And containers can be placed in shade as well as in sunnier spots. These grasses will live for 10 years or more, and since they are relatively slow-growing, will need repotting only every couple of years or so.
6. Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’
Miscanthus are common ornamental grasses for the UK. More compact varietals often work very well in containers, as well as in borders. ‘Morning Light’ is one cultivar that can grow well in a container, as long as it is medium-large in size. In pots, it will grow to around 1.2m in height, creating a strong and dramatic statement for your outside space. M. sinensis ‘Kleine Fontane’ is one somewhat smaller Miscanthus to consider.
7. Pennisetum setaceum
Many Pennisetum also work very well when grown in containers. Fountain grasses make a great architectural and visual statement. Their fountain-like arching habit means that they are a natural for container growing. There are also many other interesting Pennisetum to consider, with a variety of textures, and hues. Try ‘Fireworks’ for example, with its brilliant red colours. P. thunbergii ‘Red Buttons’ and P. villosum are two other grasses in this genus to consider growing in containers.
8. Stipa gigantea ‘Pixie’
Stipa is another genus that offers a range of interesting options for ornamental grasses which can be grown in containers. Stipa gigantea is one species within this genus which offers a range of dramatic architectural grasses for container gardens, as well as for other parts of a garden. Golden oats ‘Pixie’ is one option to consider. It forms dense mounds of foliage, and open branched panicles of oat-like flowers during the summer, to a height of around 1m.
9. Stipa ichu
Stipa is such a useful genus of grasses that these last two options on our top ten container grasses list are also Stipa. Stipa ichu, also known as Jarava ichu, or Peruvian feather grass, is another of our top picks. The feathery plumes with silvery white flowers grow to around 90cm in height during the summer months and look beautiful spilling out of a container.
10. Stipa tenuissima
Stipa tenuissima, Mexican feather grass, is another beautiful Stipa grass that also works very well in containers. Forming tufts of up to around 60cm in height, it is another very manageable choice in a container garden. The graceful shape of the plant and the texture it creates also means that it is known as pony tails.
Notes on Growing Ornamental Grasses in Containers
When growing ornamental grasses in containers, it is important to understand whether the grasses you are growing are perennials, and whether they die back in winter or will remain standing throughout the winter months. You need to know for each particular species and cultivar what care is required, and when you should cut back and when you should leave the grass in place. You will of course also need to know how long a grass can remain in its container for, and how, and how often, it will need to be repotted over time.
A permaculture garden designer, sustainability consultant and freelance writer, Elizabeth works as an advocate for positive change. She aims to inspire others to reconnect with nature and live in a more eco-friendly way. She also tries to practice what she preaches as she tends her own forest garden, polyculture beds and polytunnel. See her personal website here.