Add movement to your landscape with these plants that ‘dance’ in the wind

Story and Photography by Susan Jasn

Admittedly, when almost any type of music starts, I’m hard-pressed to sit still. It’s as if something in my spirit is calling me to move, to dance. But then reality hits: Grace is definitely not my middle name. Tall and gangly since childhood, watching myself move (as confirmed via video) is almost painful. But nevertheless, I hold to the saying, “Dance as if no one is watching.”

Sea oats provide multi-season interest. Growing 2-3 feet tall, the green summer foliage turns bronze in fall and then brown in winter. The dangling flower spikes seem to flutter effortlessly in the wind and provide food for birds and wildlife in winter.

But as painful as it is to see my dance moves, the grace and movement of plants dancing in the wind is absolutely magical. 

When planning your garden, consider including some of these “dancing” delights. Be sure to locate them where you can enjoy their movement from multiple vantage points. If possible, consider the added play of sunlight on the leaves as the plants move and the light enhances the magic.

There is nothing quite like a weeping willow dancing in the wind. Be sure to locate it far away from water, sewer, and septic lines. It is, however, ideally suited for the edge of a pond.

Ornamental grasses and weeping trees are obvious forms that come to mind, but remember that not all ornamental grasses or weeping form plants have flexible branches, so be careful in your selections. 

Some favorites that indeed dance and delight include pink muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris), Mexican feather grass (Nassella tenuissima), sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium), butterfly bush (Buddleia spp.), weeping willow (Salix babylonica), palm trees, and even pines such as loblolly (Pinus taeda).

Planting sedges under trees with strong, upright forms creates a contrast that accentuates both.

Beyond grasses and weeping-form trees, the options for plants that “dance in the wind” are endless. Utilize a dancing plant as a specimen and create a focal point for maximum impact. Or consider massing a group of plants together dancing in unison just as a classical ballet troupe. Consider utilizing massed areas of Gaura, Liatris, goldenrod (Solidago spp.), sunflowers (Helianthus spp.), or sedges (Carex spp.). 

For maximum impact, contrast a group of dancing plants with an upright plant or strong hardscape.  

Clockwise from top left:
1. ‘Fireworks’ goldenrod is a fantastic fall-blooming perennial that seems to stretch out for the wind, bees and butterflies dancing among its blooms. 2. Ornamental grasses are the top choices for plants that “dance in the wind” throughout all seasons. 3. Coneflowers (Echinacea spp.) are a delightful addition to any garden with their long stems and delightful form. 4. The plumes of switchgrass seem almost magical when backlit by the sun. 5. Mexican hat, also known as upright prairie coneflower, (Ratibida columnifera) is often found in prairies. The foliage is fairly thin, so it is best in massed plantings. 6. Some switchgrass cultivars are very stiff and upright, but the pink-tinged plumes are a delight in fall and winter breezes. Growing 3 feet tall in the summer, it can reach up to 6 feet tall when the flower panicles are blooming.

If you live somewhere with frequent high winds, sometimes these plants can be a gardening challenge rather than a joy. Consider using plants with deep roots that can better withstand strong winds. Crapemyrtles (Lagerstroemia spp.) and ornamental grasses tend to weather windy conditions pretty well. As much as possible do not stake trees or tall shrubs unless absolutely necessary to keep them upright until the roots are well established. It’s a scientific fact that the movement of the trunk in the wind actually produces a stronger trunk than one whose movement has been confined by staking during its early years. 

As you develop your garden, be sure to incorporate some plants that indeed “dance in the wind” and may you always “Dance as if no one’s watching, sing as if no one’s listening, and live everyday as if it were your last.”

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