Grasses: Perfect Planting Companions for Encore® Azaleas on the West Coast

By Mary-Kate Mackey

With their shiny dark green leaves, compact shape, and exciting repeat blooms, Encore® Azaleas are important players in West Coast garden designs. But what other plants play well with them? For a satisfying contrast of both form and color, consider pairing your Encores with the fine foliage of low-growing grasses and grass-like plants­ – readily available at nurseries in the West. Sweeps of the same grasses can tie together the various colors of your Encores and also help block weeds – giving you both harmony and easy-care in your garden. 

The best planting companions are those which share Encore®Azalea’s cultivation needs. That means finding those that grow well in sun to part sun, thrive in fast-draining soil, and like regular watering. And, of course, you want to select grasses that won’t grow too fast or get so big they’ll overwhelm your Encores. Here are three suggestions that meet these requirements and will give you dramatic and pleasing pairings.

Sassy Grass™ Sisyrinchium grows 18 inches high and wide. It’s a slow spreader with dark green grass-like foliage similar in color to many Encore Azalea's leaves. It brings a delightful informality to the more formal shapes of the azaleas. Pale blue blossoms arrive around the same time as the Encores’ first burst of flowers. Consider pairing it with pastel-colored blooms like the coral pink and white-edged Autumn Sunburst™ for a dazzling spring show. This one is deciduous in the colder parts of the West, but happily returns again as the weather warms.

Marc Anthony® Liriope is an evergreen with variegated foliage that puts on its own color show. The new blades start out golden and green, and then mature to white and green. Clump-forming at 16 inches tall and wide, this liriope features small stalks of pink flowers in summer. It could be the perfect companion for Autumn Starlite™, which shows off white and pink-speckled blossoms.

Beyond Blue™ Festuca is an evergreen clumping grass with finely textured blue foliage. Pair it with the dark green leaves and rosy pink flowers of Autumn Sweetheart™ and create an outstanding contrast, not only in texture and form, but in foliage. At 9 inches tall by 18 inches wide, Beyond Blue™ Festuca is a sun lover, so this pairing will work in places where Encores are grown in full sun.