For interesting contrast in an easy-care garden, succulents and grasses can’t be beat. Ornamental grasses add vertical interest and movement with their narrow, graceful leaves, while succulents anchor the garden with their thick, fleshy leaves and often ground-hugging habit. The key to success is to find grasses that have the same water and temperature requirements as the succulents. For good design, scale and color also should be be compatible.
Fleshy-leafed succulents are native to dry tropical and warm temperate regions. The leaves and their unique metabolic pathway, which allows them to fix carbon at night so they do not have to keep their stoma open during the day, help them survive in harsh desert and steppe climates. Drought-tolerant and dryland grasses will be most successful combined with succulents. Many succulents are not frost-tolerant and grow only in US Department of Agriculture zones 10 and 11. Others will grow in USDA zones 6 through 9 and a few, like hens and chicks (Sempervivem spp.) will survive in USDA zones 4 and 5. ormation in 2)
Choose grasses and succulents that are appropriate to the size of the bed and yard. While century plant (Agave americana) and purple fountain grass (Penesetum setaceum "Rubrum") provide interesting contrast of color and texture, they are both over 5 feet tall, and century plant can reach as much as 10 feet wide before it blooms. On the other hand, a miniature sedum like Spanish sedum (Sedum hispanica) combined with blue fescue (Festuca glauca) is quite attractive for a small courtyard or rock garden.
Both grass and succulents can have red or blue leaves as well as different shades of green. For a grass and succulent combination to be attractive, the leaf, flower and seedhead color must be considered. For example, showy sedum (Hylotelephium spectabile) blooms in late summer or fall with white, red or orange flowers. The red or orange flowers may blend well with feather reed grass (Calamagrostis acutifolia) but clash with the red fall color of little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium).
Although many succulents are tender perennials, some can be grown in colder climates. In addition to hens and chicks, several sedums and a few yuccas are hardy in USDA zones 4 and 5. The mat-forming varieties can be planted with rounded grasses like blue oatgrass (Helictotrycon sempervirons), and the more upright varieties like soapweed yucca (Yucca glauca) or "Autumn Joy" sedum can be planted with larger grasses like maidengrass (Miscanthus sp.), little bluestem or hairgrass (Deschampsia spp.).
The same qualities that enable grasses and succulents to survive in harsh climates can also make them invasive. Each state has it own list of invasive plants and laws about their control. While local nurseries probably will not be selling invasive species, they may be available online. Check your state's list of noxious and invasive plants before purchasing plants online.
- Sunset: Gorgeous Grasses
- Succulent Plants: The Stonecrop Page
- Iowa State University: Succulents for the Midwest
- Midwest Living: Ornamantal Grasses for the Midwest
- Arizona State University Extension: Grasses and Succulents
- USDA: Introduced, Noxious and Invasive Plants
- California Invasive Plant Council: California Invasive Plant Inventory Database
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