5 Considerations for Using Grasses in Combinations

Mixed containers continue to dominate the plant world, for consumers in small spaces, or for those who simply want a patio or garden refresh. Successful combinations are about more than just aesthetics. Without a good plan and some pre-thinking, containers can be a challenge. A few major considerations:

Size

Grasses in containers stop traffic at retail or in the garden, but not without some planning. While some grasses stay smaller than their norm when placed in a pot, don’t mistake that for thinking they don’t need room to spread and grow. A grass may top out at 3 foot in a container compared to 5 foot in the landscape, but that won’t change the fact that it needs at least a 3 gallon pot. It’s all about the media needed to grow.

Competition

Some large grasses in particular can be decidedly unhospitable when paired with perennials. (We’re looking at you Miscanthus.) Their fast-growing, vigorous pace is no match for a slower growing perennial like Asclepias or Ceratostigma.

Timing

Establishment will be one of your biggest challenges with a mixed container. One solution we’ve found that works well: Place an empty pot in the spot where your quicker-growing ornamental grasses will go, as they typically grow faster than perennials. Go ahead and pot up your perennials and any slow-growing ornamental grasses as usual. Once they take off, you can add the fast-growing grasses and let the combination flourish.

Water

In a perfect world, the plants you put in a container would all have the same requirements as far as irrigation. We suggest choosing a planting mix for the lowest common denominator. Select a mix that suits the plant in your combination which requires the least water. Rather than trying to dry out over-wet, unhappy plants, it is much more preferable to water more frequently.

Light

While you might be able to fudge the water requirements, the plants must have the same light needs. Miscanthus and Pennisetum won’t flower as much, or will get leggy and weak if they don’t have enough light. Carex and Hakonechloa in contrast, won’t survive the high light that Pennisetum and Miscanthus prefer. It’s critical to choose plants with like light requirements.

See our CONTAINER COMBO GALLERY for some great container combination ideas!