Ornamental grasses are the perfect plants to bridge the gap between Summer and Fall. Grasses provide color, texture, structure, and movement to the landscape with minimal maintenance. Discover the best ornamental grasses to grow for a wide range of conditions and tips on how to care for them.

Ornamental grasses fall into two categories: herbaceous and evergreen. Herbaceous grasses tend to grow taller with graceful, arching forms, and have showy “flowers” and seed heads that provide late Summer and Fall interest as well as seeds for local birds. Herbaceous grasses go dormant in the Winter but keep their structure until they are cut back in late Winter or early Spring. Evergreen grasses tend to be lower-growing, come in a range of colors, and keep their foliage all Winter.

ornamental grasses

Using Ornamental Grasses in the Landscape

Each genus of ornamental grass has a slightly different style of leaf, form, and inflorescence—mixing and matching will yield a beautiful tapestry of color and texture. Here are some helpful tips to integrate ornamental grasses into your landscape or garden:

stone steps path and wood screen in landscape
  • As a general rule, grasses with a golden or chartreuse color do better with late-afternoon sun protection, while those with blue-grey or silver coloration may do best in full sun.
  • For a Bohemian aesthetic, intermix herbaceous grasses with perennials. Our Bohemian Landscape Design Guide walks you through the plants, palettes, and techniques needed to achieve this easy-going yet elevated look in your garden!
  • For a Modern feel, plant herbaceous or evergreen grasses in straight lines.
  • For soft, airy privacy, plant tall grasses around seating areas.
  • Plant winter-dormant grasses in areas with easy access for maintenance and pruning.
  • Herbaceous grasses and spring-flowering bulbs are great partners because they alternate seasons—many grasses are small or dormant in early Spring and later season’s growth hides bulb foliage as it fades.
  • The soft texture of grass foliage provides nice contrast with boulders and hardscaping.
  • Durable and flexible, grasses may be an excellent choice for high-traffic or play areas.
  • Design with mature height and width in mind to avoid overplanting—most grasses reach their mature size in three years.

Ornamental Grass Care & Maintenance

Ornamental grasses are easy to grow and many are drought-tolerant once established! Most grasses are deer-resistant and rabbit-resistant and suffer from very few pests or diseases. Fertilize ornamental grasses in the Spring with lawn or turf fertilizer (NO Weed & Feed) or an all-purpose blend. Avoid over-fertilizing to keep foliage from becoming floppy.

Herbaceous grasses turn a straw color in Winter, but remain intact and above ground, providing Winter interest, food for birds, and movement in the garden. Prune herbaceous grasses annually by cutting back all of the foliage to the ground in late Winter or early Spring (January or February) before new growth emerges.

Evergreen grasses occasionally need to be combed or roughly raked to pull out dead foliage—evergreen grasses do not respond well to being cut back fully.

Most ornamental grasses have a clumping growth habit and increase in diameter each year. After 3–5 years, the clump often begins to appear dead or thin in the center with all of the vigorous new growth around the edges. Thin growth in the center is an indication that it is time to divide the plant, and division is best done in late Fall when soils are still warm.

Tall Grasses for Privacy & Screening

Perfect for hiding unwanted views or for adding a layer of privacy to a seating area, tall grasses can act as a seasonal or year-round screen depending on whether or not they are evergreen.

  • Calamagrostis acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ – Feather Reed Grass
  • Cortaderia selloana (evergreen) – Pampas Grass
  • Fargesia rufa (evergreen) – Rufa Clumping Bamboo
  • Fargesia sp. ‘Scabrida’ (evergreen) – Scabrida Clumping Bamboo
  • Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus’ – Silvergrass or Maiden Grass
  • Miscanthus sinensis ‘Malepartus’ – Silvergrass or Maiden Grass
  • Miscanthus sinensis ‘Sarabande’ – Silvergrass or Maiden Grass
  • Miscanthus sinensis ‘Variegatus’ – Silvergrass or Maiden Grass
  • Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’ – Silvergrass or Maiden Grass
  • Pennisetum alopecuroides – Fountain Grass
  • Panicum virgatum ‘Dallas Blues’ – Switch Grass

Grasses with Attractive Flowers

With flowers that range from feathery tassels to fluffy plumes, these grasses are ideal for adding an extra layer of interest to gardens or acting as cut or dried flowers.

    • Chasmanthium – Sea Oats
    • Cortaderia – Pampas Grass
    • Millium effusum – Millet
    • Miscanthus sinensis – Silvergrass or Maiden Grass
    • Muhlenbergia sp. – Muhly Grass
    • Panicum – Switchgrass
    • Pennisetum sp. – Fountain Grass

    Evergreen Grasses

    These grasses require very little care and upkeep and stay green even during the winter! In general evergreen grasses tend to be shorter—many do not grow taller than one foot.

    stone steps with ornamental grasses
    • Acorus sp. – Sweet Flag
    • Anemanthele lessoniana – Pheasant Grass
    • Carex buchanaii – Sedge
    • Carex comans – Sedge
    • Carex flageliffera – Sedge
    • Carex morowii ‘Ice Dance’ – Sedge
    • Carex oshimensis ‘Evergold’ – Sedge
    • Carex phyllocephala ‘Sparkler’ – Sedge
    • Carex testecea – Sedge
    • Cortaderia – Pampas Grass
    • Festuca – Fescue
    • Helictotrichon – Blue Oat Grass
    • Juncus ‘Spiralis’ – Corkscrew Rush
    • Juncus ‘Unicorn’­ – Corkscrew Rush
    • Juncus effusus – Common Rush
    • Liriope sp. – Lilyturf
    • Ophiopogon japonicus  – Mondo Grass
    • Ophiopogon ‘Nigrescens’ – Black Mondo Grass

    Drought-Tolerant Grasses

    Drought-tolerant grasses require very little water once established (2+ years after planting). When young, provide regular water during the summer to help support root growth and development.

    • Anemanthele lessoniana – New Zealand Wind Grass
    • Carex buchanaii – Leatherleaf Sedge
    • Carex comans – New Zealand Hair Sedge
    • Carex flagellifera – Weeping Brown Sedge
    • Carex testacea – New Zealand Hair Sedge
    • Chasmanthium latifolium­ – Northern Sea Oats
    • Cortaderia sp. – Pampas Grass
    • Festuca sp. – Fescue
    • Helictotrichon semp. – Blue Oat Grass
    • Luzula sylvatica – Wood Rush
    • Muhlenbergia sp. – Muhly Grass
    • Nasella tenuissima – Mexican Feather Grass
    • Pennisetum sp. – Fountain Grass
    • Schizachyrum scoparium – Little Bluestem

    Ornamental Grasses for Shade

    These grasses will tolerate low-light conditions and work well as understory plants or in shady gardens that have Northern exposure.

    stone steps with ornamental grasses
    • Acorus sp. – Sweet Flag
    • Carex elata ‘Bowles Golden’ (part shade) – Gold Sedge
    • Carex morowii – Japanese Sedge
    • Deschampsia ‘Northern Lights’ – Tufted Hair Grass
    • Hakenochloa­ – Japanese Forest Grass
    • Liriope – Lilyturf
    • Luzula – Wood Rush
    • Millium effusum ­­- Millet
    • Ophiopogon – Mondo Grass

    Grasses for Container Gardens

    Here are some of our favorite ornamental grasses for containers, but MOST evergreen grasses make great container plants!

    exterior container plantings on roof of commercial space

    Perennial Grasses for Containers

    • Carex elata ‘Bowles Golden’ (semi-evergreen) – Gold Sedge
    • Carex ‘Ribbon Falls’ and ‘Feather Falls’ (evergreen) – Sedge
    • Equisetum sp.­ – Horsetail
    • Hakonechloa sp. ­- Japanese Forest Grass
    • Imperata ­- Japanese Blood Grasss
    • Nasella tenuissma – Mexican Feather Grass
    • Uncinia rubra – Red Hook Sedge

    Annual Grasses for Containers

    • Cyperus papyrus – Papyrus
    • Millium sp. – Millet
    • Pennisetum glaucum ‘Purple Majesty’ – Fountain Grass
    • Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’ – Fountain Grass
    • Scirpus filiformus – Fiber Optic Grass


    Grasses for Rain Gardens & Bioswales

    These grasses can tolerate very wet soils and standing water in the winter, making them ideal for use in stormwater infrastructure like bioswales or rain gardens.

    Landscape Plants for Shade
    • Acorus sp. – Sweet Flag
    • Carex nigra ­- Black Sedge
    • Carex obnupta (PNW Native) – Slough Sedge
    • Deschampsia cespitosa – Tufted Hair Grass
    • Juncus sp. – Rush
    • Miscanthus sinensis – Silvergrass or Maiden Grass

    Running Grasses

    Though some running grasses can become invasive, many smaller varieties are useful in the landscape or in containers. NOTE: We do not sell or carry many running grasses (not listed) due to potential invasiveness.

    • Hakonechloa ­­­- Japanese Forest Grass
    • Imperata ­- Japanese Blood Grass
    • Luzula sylvatica – Wood Rush
    • Phalaris – Ribbon Grass, Canary Reed Grass
    • Phyllostachys sp. – Running Bamboo
    • Equisetum – Horsetail Rush

    Grass Index of Latin Name (Genus) to Common Name

    Latin names and Common names of grasses are used interchangeably. The following is a guide to help make the relationship between Common name and Latin name less confusing!

    • Acorus: Sweet Flag
    • Anemanthele: Pheasant Grass
    • Calamagrostis: Feather Reed Grass
    • Carex: Sedge
    • Chasmanthium: Sea Oats
    • Cortaderia: Pampas Grass
    • Fargesia: Clumping Bamboo
    • Festuca: Fescue
    • Hakonechloa: Japanese Forest Grass
    • Helictotrichon: Blue Oat Grass
    • Imperata: Blood Grass
    • Juncus: Rush
    • Miscanthus: Maiden Grass
    • Nasella or Stipa: Mexican Feather Grass
    • Ophiopogon: Mondo Grass
    • Panicum: Switch Grass
    • Pennisetum: Fountain Grass

    Not sure of which Ornamental Grass is best for your landscape? Our garden center staff can help recommend a great variety that will suit your aesthetic and meet your needs!

    Pin It on Pinterest

    Share This