Ten Great Ornamental Grasses

Blue fescue

Blue fescueis attractive andĀ  compact, container-friendly tufts in the bright hue. The sky’s the limit when it comes complementing this distinctive plant. Sunny shades of yellow and orange work especially well.

  • Common Names: Blue fescue.
  • Botanical Name: Festuca glauca.
  • Hardiness: Zones 4 to 8.
  • Size: 6 inches to 1 foot high.
  • Foliage: Thin blue blades.
  • Flowers: Slim, blue-green, eventually turning buff.
  • Light Needs: Full sun to light shade.
  • Growing Advice: Plant in dry soil with good drainage.
  • Prize Picks: Evocatively named Sea Urchin is about 10 inches high and wide, and especially dense and compact. For a less compact variety, try the beautifully-hued Elijah Blue.

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Blue oat grass

Whether as an addition to a border, a container or a stand-alone accent, blue oat grass is stunning. This ornamental grass attains greater length and stronger blades than blue fescue while maintaining a similarly striking blue hue. It’s also more tolerant of poor soil and adapts well to a variety of conditions.

  • Common Names: Blue oat grass.
  • Botanical Name: Helictotrichon sempervirens.
  • Hardiness: Zones 4 to 8.
  • Size: 2 to 3 feet tall and wide.
  • Foliage: Stiff bluish blades.
  • Flowers: Wheat-colored flowerheads in summer.
  • Light Needs: Full sun.
  • Growing Advice: For best foliage color, give it full sun in cooler regions, light shade in warmer areas.
  • Prize Picks: Sapphire is a newer introduction with improved blue color.

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Feather reed grass

Extremely tolerant and low-maintenance. The handsome shiny-green foliage lasts through winter, poorly drained soils and may tolerate shade as well. Fast-growing feather reed grass does well around water and makes a pretty screen.

    • Common Names: Feather reed grass.
    • Botanical Name: Calamagrostis x acutiflora.
    • Hardiness: Zones 4 to 7.
    • Size: 2 to 6 feet high, 2 to 4 feet wide.
    • Foliage: Green.
    • Flowers: Plush silvery bronze to purple flowers in summer that remain showy throughout winter.

Light Needs: Full sun to partial shade.

  • Growing Advice: In early spring, before new growth begins, cut down all stems that were left for winter effect.
  • Prize Picks: Classic favorite Karl Foerster was named Perennial Plant of the Year in 2001. Avalanche features a wide band of white down the center of each blade; the new leaves of Overdam have bright yellow margins that fade to white with a pink blush; soft, silvery-bronze flowers; the effect is shimmery and impressive.

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Fountain grass

With full tufts of fuzzy toned flower spikes, this ethereal grass must be heaven-sent. Though its one of the most common ornamental grasses, there are many different varieties of fountain grass sure to add grace and charm to your backyard paradise.

  • Common Names: Fountain grass.
  • Botanical Name: Pennisetum alopecuroides.
  • Hardiness: Zones 5 to 9.
  • Size: Up to 4 feet high, though dwarf versions (like the one pictured here) are available (see our Prize Picks below).
  • Foliage: Dark green.
  • Flowers: Enormous rose-colored flower tassels persist through fall.
  • Light Needs: Full sun to partial shade.
  • Growing Advice: Plant in moderately fertile, well-drained soil. Remove dead grass before the new emerges in spring.
  • Prize Picks: Hameln is a shorter form, to 30 inches, with narrower blades. Little Bunny is a mini less than 12 inches tall, which looks especially nice in rock gardens.

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Indian grass

Indian grassĀ  adds stunning green, golden bronze and warm blues to your garden throughout the year with little work on your part in return. Its natural look lends itself as a transition from more formal spaces, though it looks great among wildflower gardens as well.

  • Common Names: Indian grass.
  • Botanical Name: Sorghastrum.
  • Hardiness: Zones 3 to 8.
  • Size: Up to 8 feet high and 2 feet wide.
  • Foliage: Blue-green leaves which turn purplish-blue in fall.
  • Flowers: Golden- or red-brown flowerheads.
  • Light Needs: Full sun.
  • Growing Advice: Avoid wet soil in winter. Divide in mid-spring or early summer.
  • Prize Picks: Sioux Blue has bright blue foliage and attains 4 to 6 feet.

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Japanese forest grass

This slow-growing plant has dense cascading masses of arching stems. It looks great planted on mass, or around landscape edges. Its thin, light blades move freely with encouragement from mild breezes. Whether planted as a specimen or a groundcover, this grass will surely add interest to your shade garden.

  • Common Names: Japanese forest grass.
  • Botanical Name: Hakonechloa macra.
  • Hardiness: Zones 4 to 8.
  • Size: Up to 14 inches high and 16 inches wide.
  • Foliage: Golden stems gain a reddish-pink tinge in fall.
  • Flowers: Inconspicuous, summer.
  • Light Needs: Partial to full shade.
  • Growing Advice: Grow in rich, moist soil. Hosta makes a great complement.
  • Prize Picks: Justly popular “golden grass,” Aureola, is the showy variegated form (gold and white), reaching up to 2 feet high at most – really lights up dim areas! Albo-striata is white-striped and shimmers in a breeze.

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Japanese blood grass

Get red-dy for color when you plant Japanese blood grass. Its showy apple-green blades turn blood red from middle to top in the summer and stay lovely through to October. Japanese blood grass stands erect to no more than 2 feet and tolerates a variety of soils, Plant it as an addition to a border, an accent to a rock garden or as a container plant.

  • Common Names: Japanese blood grass.
  • Botanical Name: Imperata cylindrica
  • Hardiness: Zones 5 to 9.
  • Size: 1 to 2 feet high, up to 2 feet wide.
  • Foliage: Apple-green leaves near the base, blood-red from middle to top.
  • Flowers: Silvery-white, late summer to autumn.
  • Light Needs: Full sun to light shade.
  • Growing Advice: Average well-drained soil is fine. It looks especially dashing in the company of yellow, purple, or orange flowers. Or grow ribboned, or massed, for big impact.
  • Prize Picks: Red Baron is prized for its dramatic burgundy leaves.

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Maiden, eulalia, or silver grass

You will be on cloud nine with the fluffy tops of this ethereal ornamental grass. The big showy flower heads create its delicate and graceful profile. Silver grass is a great choice for adding some creamy white to your landscape.

  • Common Names: Maiden, eulalia, or silver grass.
  • Botanical Name: Miscanthus sinensis.
  • Hardiness: Zones 4 to 8.
  • Size: Up to 8 feet high and 4 feet wide.
  • Foliage: Tufts of green.
  • Flowers: Silver to pale pink-brown, late summer to autumn.
  • Light Needs: Full sun.
  • Growing Advice: Plant in moist or mulched soil. May be slow to establish.
  • Prize Picks: Gracillimus has graceful narrow blades up to 5 feet tall and 7-foot silvery plumes. Variegated Morning Light has late-blooming creamy plumes that attain 5 to 6 feet. Shorter-size ones include Adagio (4-foot-tall, white-striped pinkish white blooms) and Yaku Jima (a 3- to 4-foot-tall version of Gracillimus).

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Pampas grass

Add some drama to your garden with pampas grass. Eye-catching plumes of abundant flowers grow quickly – resembling arching feathers. The colored varieties are especially stunning in cut flower arrangements.

  • Common Names: Pampas grass.
  • Botanical Name: Cortaderia selloana.
  • Hardiness: Zones 6 to 11.
  • Size: 8 to 10 feet high, up to 5 feet wide.
  • Foliage: Mid-green.
  • Flowers: Silver with a pink or purple tinge, late summer.
  • Light Needs: Full sun.
  • Growing Advice: Sow seeds in spring where there is ample space to develop – where you would a major shrub or small ornamental tree. May be invasive in some areas.
  • Prize Picks: For a more contained grass, select a dwarf variety like Pumila or Compacta, which produces 6-foot plants hardy in Zones 7 to 10.

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This native grass is a fitting selection for wet conditions, drought, or partial shade. It grows narrowly upright, reaching 3 feet tall with drooping spikes. Purple flowers are borne in early autumn that fade to golden, providing a bright color interest on bleak winter days.

  • Common Names: Switchgrass.
  • Botanical Name: Panicum virgatum.
  • Hardiness: Zones 4 to 9.
  • Size: Up to 5 feet high and 30 inches wide.
  • Foliage: Mid-green or metallic-blue leaves that turn yellow or reddish-purple in autumn.
  • Flowers: Purple-green flowers, early autumn.
  • Light Needs: Full sun, though tolerant of partial shade.
  • Growing Advice: Plant in moderately fertile, well-drained soil.
  • Prize Picks: Cloud Nine is tall, to 6 feet, with metallic-blue foliage topped by cloud-like plumes of reddish brown in late summer and fall. Shenandoah stays to about 3 feet and has wine-red colorations – gorgeous! Heavy Metal is stiffly upright, to 5 feet, with metallic-blue color that becomes bright yellow in fall.


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