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Turf Grass vs. Native & Ornamental Grasses

June 03, 2013

Benefits of Native and Ornamental Grasses as an Option to Turf Grass
by Joshua Fietz, TBG Horticulturist

Click here to watch Joshua’s video!

Turf grass was initially used to provide an active space in yards, creating a great surface for play and events.  This gave people a great reason to maintain the grass and keep it looking nice. Nowadays, we often find the opposite. People post ‘stay off grass’ signs due to chemical applications or the fear that foot traffic will disturb their well-kept lawns.

And while there are some very significant reasons to make things aesthetically pleasing, lawns were not meant to merely look good.  The functionality of the lawn seems to have gotten lost in the maintenance of formal straight edges, patterned mow lines, and relentless energy to keep weeds out of the carpet.

There are other options out there. When I refer to grasses being “native”, I simply mean that they occur naturally in a specific area and are adapted to the climate.  When I refer to “ornamental” grasses, I am speaking of cultivars and hybrids that have been selected because of a particular characteristic or quality.  Both can be very showy and beautiful, while providing very important functions.  Native and ornamental grasses can provide a great many bonuses to your yard and the environment at a very minimal cost. There is also little maintenance, as most native and ornamental grasses are very hardy.


  • Turf is the most invasive plant in North America (finding cracks in cement, beds for displays, and vegetable gardens)
  • Great source of food for lawn pests (including grubs, wireworms, and diseases too numerous to mention)
  • A poor source of food for beneficial wildlife
  • Requires lots of maintenance including high inputs of fertilizers and water becoming very costly to the home or business owner
  • Rarely used as an outdoor activity space, other than to mow
  • Creates a mat in which rain water can either pool, or run-off very quickly due to thatch and shallow roots


  • Provide aesthetic qualities which include different shades, textures, depths, and heights (in which turf cannot)
  • Can provide magnificent seasonal colors
  • Can be utilized in a vase with cut flowers through-out the year (even winter)
  • Quick to establish with low to no requirements of fertilizer or extra irrigation
  • Increases the view toward the house (from the street or sidewalk)
  • Improves water quality by uptake of rain water, and run-off filtration (due to a much better root system than turf grass)
  • Provides wind breaks
  • Can be planted with perennials, shrubs and trees
  • Provides sound in your yard as wind blows
  • Provides a great habitat for beneficial bugs (encouraging a healthier ecosystem in your yard)
  • Excellent source of food for birds
  • Can be divided
  • Can be cut back, with stems being used as supports (such as the super strong Giant Reed Grass- used for beans to climb, which can also support a clothes
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