Grasses, Succulents and Groundcovers for Sustainable Gardens

Grasses, Succulents and Groundcovers for Sustainable Gardens

At Molbak’s, we’re eager to explore new paths toward sustainable gardening. As our Western Washington summers become hotter and drier, we have a responsibility to offer both native and non-native plants that require less water and provide habitat for garden creatures trying to escape the heat, forage for food and pollinate.  

Both ornamental and functional, grasses, succulents and ground covers offer our gardens beauty and utility. Once established, which takes about two years, many of these plant species are fairly self-sufficient and drought tolerant, needing only the occasional watering and shaping.  

Selecting Grasses 

Praised for adding texture, form and pops of color to gardens, grasses and ground covers can serve different purposes in the garden. Determining the purpose in advance might make it easier to select the plants that are right for you. Are you looking to add a focal point to your garden or maybe some movement? Maybe you’re looking to create some privacy or height in your garden? Or maybe you’re looking for varieties that will offer your garden texture and color come winter?  

If you’re looking for extra showy varieties of ornamental grasses with stunning texture and beautiful movement, we recommend a stipa grass. With feather, needle and spear varieties, stipa grass clumps together and most varieties bloom when planted in full sunlight. Once established this grass is extremely drought tolerant. Other showy grasses include miscanthus and festuca. Miscanthus grasses offer soft, airy texture that stands out in a crowd while festuca adds splendid pops of color to gardens.  

If it’s privacy you’re after, tall varieties of Miscanthus are a good choice. Fast growing and also great in containers, this variety can reach upwards of 14 feet in the right conditions.  

Cool season ornamental grasses are also popular. They offer gardens color and texture in the cooler months and can be left standing until spring when it’s time for a trim. Look for switch grasses, Zebra Grass, fountain grasses, Blue Oat Grass or wild ryes. 

Benefits of ornamental grasses: 

  • Deep root systems help mitigate soil erosion 
  • Many are drought tolerant 
  • They create habitat for wildlife and pollinators 
  • Low maintenance 

Molbak’s Staff Picks: 

  • Carex 
  • Stipa  Stipa Tenuissima Grass
  • Miscanthus 
  • Pennisetum AKA Fountain Grasses 
Purple Fountain Grass

    Growing Succulents in Western Washington  

    Successfully growing succulents outdoors in Western Washington is about understanding which varieties will thrive here and under which conditions. One of the most critical elements of growing succulents successfully outdoors is making sure they have adequate drainage. It’s either that, or you’ll need to plant them in containers that can be moved come heavy rain and frost.  

    Succulents that can brave our wet and cold winters include sempervivum (hens and chicks), sedum and delosperma, aka hardy ice plant. The best places to plant succulents are in rock gardens, raised beds, containers – anywhere where there’s plenty of sun and good drainage.  

    Benefits of succulents: 

    • Once established, they require little water 
    • Some varieties (sedum) are super hardy and easy to grow 
    • They beautify rock and crevice gardens 

    Molbak’s Staff Picks (perfect for most PNW gardens): 

    • Sedum 
    flowering sedum
    • Sempervivum 
    • Delosperma 

    Groundcovers Perfect For Western Washington Gardens  

    There are so many reasons to incorporate groundcovers into your new or established garden.  

    Benefits of groundcovers: 

    • Low maintenance + versatile 
    • Most are perennials, so you can enjoy them year after year 
    • Initial upfront cost is inexpensive 
    • Help to prevent erosion 
    • Many are drought-tolerant 
    • Provide habitat and food for wildlife 

    With groundcovers it’s all about “right plant, right place.” When selecting groundcovers you should think about light, soil and moisture, just like you would with any other addition to your garden.  

    There are countless varieties to choose from when it comes to groundcovers and if you aren’t sure where to start, pop into Molbak’s and have one of our experts show you the ropes and answer any questions you might have.  

    If you really want to ensure your new groundcovers will survive their first winter or two, consider choosing varieties that can thrive in hardiness zones that are one or two below yours. This ensures an extra cold winter won’t completely kill your new additions. Another consideration when choosing groundcovers is slope. Many PNW-appropriate groundcovers are excellent at mitigating erosion because of their long roots. Slope also means quicker drainage, so take this into account when making your selection.  

    Last but not least you’ll want to consider the size, texture and appearance of your groundcovers as well as how quickly they’ll grow. While some are slow to fill in a spot others can take off quickly and if left unmanaged can become unruly.

      Molbak’s Staff Picks: 

      • Creeping Thymus 
      • Isotoma-Blue Star Creeper 
      • Vinca Minor AKA Periwinkle
      periwinkle ground cover

        The peak of summer is the perfect time to plant succulents, grasses and groundcovers. They offer so much in the way of subtle earthen color, texture and versatility in the garden or planted in a container.  

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