Ornamental Grass Plant Care: Planting, Watering, Fertilizing, and More

Breathe life into your garden with ornamental grass plants!
Discover planting, watering, and care tips for a thriving South African garden.

South Africa is home to lush coasts, highveld, grasslands, forests, deserts, and majestic mountain peaks. In these varied landscapes, wispy and versatile ornamental grasses are a gardener’s dream. They offer a
low-maintenance solution to adding texture, movement, and colour to your garden, providing four seasons of interest. Let’s explore how to plant, water, fertilize, and prune your ornamental grass plants.

Setting up your ornamental grass plants

Most ornamental grasses love our sunny South African climate. Choose a spot that welcomes the rays of
the sun and has well-draining soil to avoid waterlogging.

Begin by loosening the soil to 30cm, mixing in some compost for a nutrient boost, and digging a hole
slightly larger than the root ball. Gently tease out any tangled roots, place your ornamental grass in the
hole, ensuring the root ball sits level, and backfill the hole, firming the soil gently. To give your grass a
healthy start, water it deeply so that the soil settles.

Hydration is key, but overwatering is not

Most grasses prefer deep, infrequent watering, encouraging their roots to search deeper for moisture, and making them more drought-resistant.

Water requirements also vary. Water-wise Mondo grasses can handle less frequent watering, while taller,
thirstier varieties like Pennisetum might need more attention during hot, dry periods.

To check when it’s time to water your grasses (and other plants, for that matter), stick your finger in the
soil near the base of the plant. If it’s dry to the touch, that’s your sign to bring out the watering can or hose pipe.

Overwatering can lead to root rot, so be sure to do the finger dip test to keep grasses happy.

The fundamentals of fertilizing

Ornamental grass plants benefit from a balanced, slow-release fertilizer applied in early spring. This gives
them a nutrient boost for the growing season. In South Africa’s diverse climate, it is important to avoid
over-fertilization as it can result in excessive foliage growth, which may negatively impact root
development, causing the plants to become less resilient.

Related: Why plants need potassium.

Pruning practices

Pruning is the gardener’s most underrated secret weapon. Pruning ornamental grasses will help maintain
their beauty and health.

For Mondo grass, a simple trim in late winter or early spring, before new growth starts, is sufficient. Use
sharp shears to cut back the foliage by about one-third to encourage fresh, vibrant growth. In frost-prone
areas of the country, this also helps remove any frost-damaged tips.

Companion planting

Pair your ornamental grass plants with South African flowering plants like vibrant Red Hot Pokers or
Pincushion proteas for a stunning display. Or play with textures! The soft, feathery plumes of grasses
complement the bold foliage of succulents like Aloe Sunrise, Aloe Orange Delight, or the spiky leaves of
Yuccas. This gives your garden an appealing contrast in texture and colour while being equally

Consider mature heights for a layered effect. Taller grasses like Pennisetum can provide a backdrop for
lower-growing flowering plants like Gazanias, while shorter varieties like Carex can add texture and
interest at the front of the border.

With a little savvy and care, your ornamental grass plants can become the stars of your garden. Visit
Plantland for a wide selection of ornamental grasses, and follow us on Facebook and Instagram for expert
advice tailored to the South African gardener.