5 Ways to Pair Grasses and Agaves for a Winning Garden Combination

By Staff
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5 Ways to Pair Grasses and Agaves for a Winning Garden Combination

By Lauren Dunec Hoang, Houzz

As they say, opposites attract. A perfect planting companion to the architectural forms and sharp-tipped leaves of agaves may just be their polar opposite in terms of form and texture: feathery soft, billowing ornamental grasses. Take a look at five compelling ways to use a pairing of bold agaves with delicate ornamental grasses in the landscape. Tell us, do you think they make wonderful companions?

Studio H Landscape Architecture, original photo on Houzz

American century plant (Agave americana) paired with fine-textured ‘Elijah Blue’ fescue (Festuca glauca ‘Elijah Blue’), plus coral aloe (Aloe striata) and blue chalk sticks (Senecio mandraliscae)

Choosing Your Plants 

Think about what type of effect you’d like a pairing of agaves and grasses to have. Do you want the colors to contrast or blend in with each other? Pay attention to the mature sizes of both the agaves and grasses. A big difference in size will create a more dramatic, architectural look, while agaves paired with grasses of a similar size look more as if they’re planted in a meadow.

A few favorites pairs to consider:
• Large-scale, silvery-blue American century plant (Agave americana, USDA zones 8 to 11) and small, mounding blue fescue (Festuca glauca, zones 4 to 8)
• Medium-size octopus agave (Agave vilmoriniana, zone 9) and feathery pink muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris, zones 6 to 9)
• Blue-green ‘Blue Flame’ agave (Agave ‘Blue Flame’, zones 9 to 11) and bronze New Zealand wind grass (Anemanthele lessoniana, zones 8 to 10)

Personal Garden Coach, original photo on Houzz

5 Ways to Use this Dynamic Duo

1. Go monochromatic for a dramatic entryway.In landscape design, we often talk about balancing color, form and texture. Keeping one of these three characteristics constant in a pair draws all the attention to the remaining two attributes.

For example, in this bed in Lotusland, Southern California, the color of all the plants is limited to an icy silver-blue. We’re left to marvel at the dramatic contrast in form and texture between the dramatic, toothy agaves, fuzzy-looking mounds of blue fescue (Festuca glauca) and graceful blue atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica ‘Glauca’).

Related: Curb Appeal Ideas to Make Your Entryway Pop

Ecocentrix Landscape Architecture, original photo on Houzz

2. Add agaves to break up an expanse of grass. Add interest to a swath of ornamental grasses by planting a few large-scale agaves. Their bold architectural forms will immediately draw the eye. In this driveway planting in Encino Hills, California, the landscape architect planted a few Weber’s century plants (Agave weberi) amidst a rippling sea of red fescue (Festuca rubra) to form a stunning front garden.

Gardens by Gabriel Inc, original photo on Houzz

3. Add grasses to unify agave combinations. For low-water beds loaded with agaves and other rosette-forming succulents, plant clumps of ornamental grasses to integrate, soften and add movement to the planting design.

In this coastal garden in San Luis Obispo, California, the landscape designer used clumps of New Zealand wind grass (Anemanthele lessoniana) throughout the succulent garden. The luminous green-bronze grass gently sways between the agaves and other succulents, catching the late-afternoon light and unifying different garden areas.

The Garden Consultants Inc, original photo on Houzz

4. Throw in a potted accent. In this garden in Highland Park, Illinois, a single variegated agave in a tall planter acts as an eye-catching focal point midway down a gravel pathway. The height of the planter and sculpture-like form of the agave set the plant apart from the meadow of moor grass (Molinia caerulea ‘Moorflamme’).

Using an agave as an accent in a container is particularly useful in garden with heavy or wet soil — where an agave planted in the ground would be at risk of rotting. Control the planting environment inside the pot by starting with a quick-draining cactus-mix potting soil and limiting irrigation.

5. Let one set the stage for the other. Use swaths of ornamental grasses planted behind agaves to direct a viewer’s gaze to the main event. Pink muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris), native to Texas and the central and eastern United States, is particularly effective at creating a soft, luminous backdrop.

GEL: Griffin Enright Landscape, original photo on Houzz

This sloped garden in Los Angeles also has ornamental grasses, including pink muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris), forming a feathery backdrop for a row of wavy octopus agaves (Agave vilmoriniana). The layers of grasses also include silvery-blue rye grass (Leymus arenarius ‘Glaucus’) behind the agaves and tawny ‘Karl Foerster’ feather reed grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’) at left.

Planting Notes

Agaves. Most types of agave — including commonly planted American century plant (Agave americana, zones 8 to 11), ‘Blue Glow’ agave (Agave ‘Blue Glow’, zones 9 to 11), whale’s tongue agave (Agave ovatifolia, Zone 7), tequila agave (Agave tequilana, zones 9 to 11) and octopus agave (Agave vilmoriniana, Zone 9) — thrive in full sun. Slightly tenderer foxtail agave (Agave attenuata, zones 10 to 12) can take full sun to lightly filtered shade in garden settings and requires some shade in hot, inland areas. All agaves need sharp, well-draining soil and require the soil to dry out between waterings to prevent the fleshy plants from rotting.

Related: Sunrooms They’ll Flourish In

Ornamental grasses. Planting requirements vary widely by species. Since all agaves require full sun to partially filtered sun, and soil with very good drainage, be sure to pick ornamental grass varieties that thrive in similar planting conditions. A few to choose from include ‘Elijah Blue’ fescue (Festuca glauca ‘Elijah Blue’, zones 4 to 8), red fescue (Festuca rubra, zones 4 to 10), New Zealand wind grass (Anemanthele lessoniana, zones 8 to 10), ‘Blonde Ambition’ blue grama grass (Bouteloua gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition’, zones 3 to 10), pink muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris, zones 6 to 9) and foothill sedge (Carex tumulicola, zones 8 to 10).

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