Ornamental grasses have become popular additions to Bay Area gardens, and for good reason. Grasses add color and texture to the garden palette, they create a natural feel that is particularly desirable for California gardens, and in general they are easy to establish and even easier to maintain.
Most grasses like sun, but there are a few ornamental grasses that thrive in shady areas, and these can be used to great effect under trees and around other shade loving plants such as Rhododendrons, Camellias, and Japanese Maples.
Here are a few grasses and grass-like plants that will thrive in part to full shade:
Variegated Japanese Sedge (Carex hachijoensis ‘Evergold’) is a beautiful and easy evergreen grass that forms a low tufted mound of graceful dark green blades, each with a bright butter-yellow central stripe. This grass can be grown in sun or dappled shade; when grown in the shade it requires only occasional watering in the dry season. Large clumps can be divided, and this grass can be cut back in late fall or early winter to encourage fresh growth in the spring.
Variegated Dwarf Sedge (Carex morrowii ‘Ice Dance’) is also a good sedge for shady conditions, and will spread by rhizomes to form an attractive ground cover that helps prevent weeds. This grass grows to 12 inches in height, with lush bright green leaves marked with yellow edges. Clusters of small white flowers bloom in summer.
Sweet Flag (Acorus) is an evergreen grass-like plant that thrives in both sun and shade. ‘Albovariegatus’ reaches about 6 inches in height with fan-like clusters of creamy white-striped green leaves. ‘Ogon’ grows to 12 inches and has green to yellow foliage edged with brilliant yellow. ‘Pusillus’ is only 3-5 inches in height, with attractive dark green leaves, and works well between stepping-stones. It will tolerate light foot traffic.
Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon) is another small evergreen grass-like plant that is easy and can be grown in shady conditions. This one comes in several colors, including black and very dark purple. ‘Ebknizam’ bears dramatic purplish-black foliage, and has clusters of small white flowers in summer, while ‘Nigrescens’ is one of the few plants with true black foliage. ‘Silver Mist’ has lavender flowers in summer followed by metallic blue fruit, and the foliage is dark green with fine white variegation.
Hakone Grass, also known as Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa) is a winter deciduous grass that grows 12 to 24 inches in height, and forms a slow growing mound of thin, often variegated blades. In summer, delicate seed heads dance above the foliage. This is an elegant, graceful grass that thrives in light shade.