Ornamental grasses continue to be popular additions to home landscapes. In addition to having low maintenance needs, ornamental grasses are popular due to a wide variety of colors, textures, and growth habits that provide multi-seasonal interest.
Most ornamental grasses prefer sun locations and tolerate a variety of soil conditions. Ornamental grasses are usually planted as transplants. Primary care is to provide water during dry weather until the plants are established. Little fertilization is usually needed. The most important maintenance is cutting back old foliage before new growth emerges each year. When considering ornamental grasses, match the characteristics of the species to what is desirable to your landscape and make sure the species is hardy.
Truly evergreen with glossy, dark green and creamy white varigated leaves 1/2" wide and 8-10" tall, Acorus is a valuable addition to landscaping along pond's edge, in water gardens, or in any boggy area. It loves wet feet, and prefers fertile, acid soil in partial shade, or full sun, as long as it is kept moist. Burnt tips and brown leaves emphasize its distaste for dry conditions.
Plant 18" apart Zone 6-9 part shade
donax Giant Reed Grass
Almost bamboo-like in appearance, this 18–20' grass works well as a screen. Plumes appear in August well above the blue-green leaves. It is drought-tolerant, but can also live temporarily in standing water.
Plant 48 to 60 inches apartZone 6–10full sun
brachytricha Korean Feather Reed Grass
Thick clumps of rich grassy foliage at 2' are followed in September through November by puffy, rosy-purple upright blooms at 3 1/2', then become cinnamon-colored for the winter months. The strong vertical line complements other grasses with arching habits, as well as many flowering perennials. Looks great in small groups, handles moist, but well-drained soil, and will tolerate some shade quite happily.
Plant 24-30" apart/Zone 4–9/full sun to part shade
acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ Feather Reed Grass
2001 Perennial Plant of the Year. While the 18–24" foliage grows in a handsome, arching clump, it is the tall, slender upright flower spikes that distinguish this grass. The graceful golden spikes rise 4–5' above the foliage in May and June, and persist well into the winter. The only difference between ‘Karl Foerster’ and the stricta is that in colder climates ‘Karl Foerster’ grows more compactly and blooms 2 to 3 weeks earlier. Feather Reed Grass will tolerate some shade, but prefers moist, well-drained soil in full sun. Try it with Fountain Grasses for a classic combination. Like the species, ‘Karl Foerster’ works well with a myriad of woodies, perennials, and other grasses.
Plant 30" apart /Zone 4–9/full sun to part shade
oshimensis ‘Evergold’ Japanese Sedge
A clump-forming grass 1' high with weeping, narrow yellow grass blades with a green vertical mid-line, this Carex is evergreen, grows best in partial shade, and is valuable as a ground cover, for edging, in woodland settings, rock gardens, and pond areas. Try Carex in combination with a blue Hosta such as ‘Blue Cadet’, Epimedium rubrum, and spotted Pulmonaria.
Plant 18" apart/Zone 5–9/part sun - part shade
glauca (flacca)Blue Sedge
The blue leaves of this drought-tolerant Carex have a somewhat arching shape and are about 6-8" tall. We like its slow but steady spreading habit that makes it perfect for massing in sun or light shade where drought tolerance is a plus. It is adaptable to a range of soils including alkaline types as well as soil with some salinity. Try it with purple-leaved Heucheras and a variegated Lamium for a complementary variety of foliage types.
Plant 18" apart Zone 5–9part sun to part shade
morrowii ‘Silver Sceptre’Variegated Sedge
Very arching narrow 1/4" green leaves with a white edge give this Carex a uniformly fine fountain shape.If happy in the moist well-drained shady situation it favors, it will spread slowly by rhizomes creating more silvery clumps.At 12", it is evergreen, long-lived, and not difficult to grow.
Plant 18" apartZone 5–9part shade to full shade
latifolium Northern Sea Oats
Native to our area, this grass grows in loose, upright clumps 3' high with attractive, nodding oat-like seed heads that appear in late July. The leaves and flattened wild oats are a deep green in shade, and will be lighter green in more sunlight. Excellent winter interest is created as the seed heads andfoliage turn bronze. Use Northern Sea Oats in the partial shade of a naturalized area, as waterside plantings, or in the perennial border. They are attractive in cut-flower arrangements.
Plant 30" apartZone 5–9full sun to part shade
Cortaderia sellona Icalma
This very dwarf form of Cortaderia is a medium size clumping grass. It has a fountain-like form. It requires regular water until established and then is quite drought tolerant. Grow in full sun. It is not adversely affected by heat, humidity or wind. There are no known pests. Pruning is only necessary after occasional winter dieback. Most Cortaderias are very large garden plants with green foliage, often to 12' tall. ‘Icalma’ is a dwarf of the specie, to 3-4' with blue foliage. The inflorescence is more delicate, flowering in mid-July two months earlier than the specie.
Plant 2 ' apart Zone 6-9 Full Sun
selloana ‘Pumila’ Dwarf Pampas Grass
If you like the look of Pampas Grass, but find it too tall for your gardening needs, ‘Pumila’ may be the answer. This introduction has foliage no more than 4–5' tall, and plumes that reach only 5' or 6'. Its lovely, creamy-white plumes will add grace and interest in the small border or as an accent plant by itself. It has proven hardy as far north as Long Island, and has been known to survive mild winters in our Zone 7.
King of the ornamental grasses, Pampas grows 9–12' high in large, upright clumps, and is used at the back of perennial borders, as screening, or for architectural interest. Its showy, feathery panicles are silvery white, from 1 to 2 feet in length, appearing in October. It has been known to survive our mild Zone 7 winters especially if clumps are tied up and the root area mulched well. Needs a well-drained location especially in the winter.
Plant 36 to 48" apartZone 8–10full sun
cespitosa Tufted Hair Grass
Valued for its pale green or purple-tinged airy panicles that appear in masses in late June and last through late August, this dark green native is about 18" high and prefers acidic, moist soil in a sunny or partly shaded area.
Plant 18" apartZone 4–9full sun to full shade
glauca ‘Elijah Blue’ Blue Fescue
Effective throughout the year, ‘Elijah Blue’ is 8–10" of fine, tufted, blue-gray foliage. It needs light, well-drained soil and full sun. It can be used in ground cover plantings, in the rock garden, or as an edging plant. In the perennial border it combines readily with a number of colors and foliages. Try it combined with red, pink, and/or yellow flowers such as our Scabiosa ‘Pink Mist’, Coreopsis ‘Moonbeam’, or Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’.
Resembling a tall type of Festuca at 2' in height, ‘Sapphire’ is an improved version of Blue Oats that is stronger and more heat tolerant. It has stiff, blue-gray foliage with a nice clump habit that can be evergreen in our area. It is the color and delicacy of the foliage that make this grass useful, although panicles do appear in mid-summer. Try it with Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’, Hosta ‘Halcyon’, and Siberian Iris for a pleasing variety of forms and colors.
Plant 18" apartZone 4–8full sun
cylindrica ‘Red Baron’ Japanese Blood Grass
Though the leaf base is green, the rest of the plant is a brilliant blood red, and it stays that way throughout the growing season. This slow-growing grass has an upright, open habit 12–15" tall. It grows best in sun to partial shade in moist, but well-drained soil. It looks best when planted in groups of three to five plants (the more the better), making a gorgeous ground cover in a partly shaded woodland location. Try it as an accent plant as well as with blue-flowering, gray foliage plants like our Caryopteris (Blue Beard), Buddleia, Artemisia, Russian Sage, or ‘Sunny Border Blue’ Veronica.
Plant 18" apartZone 6–9full sun to part shade
sinensis ‘Gracillimus’ Maiden Grass
One of the nursery favorites, ‘Gracillimus’ has slender, arching, dark green foliage that forms an expanding clumped base to serve equally as a lovely screen or elegant hedge, or as a lush backdrop for the rest of the garden. It blooms red in September and October to a height of 6–7'.
Plant 36 to 48" apart Zone 5–9full sun
sinensis ‘Malepartus’ Malepartus Grass
We have included ‘Malepartus’ because of its moderate size at 5–6', and its early August bloom time. A robust grower with a medium wide green leaf, its large bloom is a striking purplish-pink that matures to silver. The lovely bloom is distinctly separate from the 3–4' foliage.
Another very popular grass in our nursery, ‘Morning Light’ is the variegated version of ‘Gracillimus’, but a little shorter. It is upright, blooms red in August and September, and has a strongly arching growth habit that gives it a feathery, billowing look. From a distance, its look is absolutely light and silvery. A strong specimen plant on its own, or very striking blended with darker shades of color and foliage in the large mixed border. As with all our grasses, annual maintenance is limited to a good haircut 6–8" from the ground in the early part of March before spring growth starts. It grows 5–6' tall.
Plant 36 to 48" apart Zone 5–9 full sun
purpurascens Red-leaved Miscanthus
If you think your garden looks tired and boring after a long, hot summer, give purpurascens a try. Green, with a strong vertical growth habit all growing season, it produces a magenta-colored bloom that turns to white in September. Best of all, the leaves turn intensely orange-red in August. In the middle of the border, it will also help ease the transition from one color or texture to another. Grasses seem to have this ability to make a garden look more natural and pleasing to the eye. Grows 4–5'.
Plant 36 to 48" apartZone 6–9full sun
sinensis ‘Silberfeder’ Silver Feather Grass
The green leaves have a silver mid-stripe on this 7–9' grass which has lovely silver-white, fan-shaped plumes from August into October, that last throughout the winter. The foliage reaches 6' and the plumes to 9'. A large, but graceful grass in groups, or as a specimen.
Similar to Zebra Grass, ‘Strictus’ has horizontal bands of yellow on the green leaves, but its difference is that it grows in a more stiff, erect manner. Thus its common name, Porcupine Grass. Its leaves are also more erect, creating a spiky effect. Always a favorite specimen grass, it grows to 6–8' and blooms pink in August and September.
Plant 36 to 48" apartZone 5–9full sun
sinensis ‘Yaku Jima’ Dwarf Maiden Grass
More and more of our customers are discovering ‘Yaku Jima’. It provides the strong narrow green leaves of Maiden Grass, but in a 3–4' version. It achieves a thick, full clump of billowing, arched foliage quickly, and silver flowers in August. If you’re unsure about the tall varieties, but want to try an ornamental grass in your gardening scheme, ‘Yaku Jima’ is the answer.
Plant 36 to 48" apartZone 5–9full sun
sinensis ‘Graziella’ Graziella Grass
At 5–6', Graziella is not so tall as to overwhelm the surrounding plants if used in the back of the border. It has a very slender silvery midrib, and is more upright than ‘Gracillimus’. It begins to bloom from July on to September with gorgeous silvery white plumes that start off a silky, rose-pink, and then its foliage turns a lovely orange. Looks fantastic combined with our Rudbeckia ‘Autumn Glory’, the taller fountain grasses, or Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’.
Plant 36 to 48" apartZone 5–9full sun
virgatum ‘Heavy Metal’ Blue Switchgrass
‘Heavy Metal’ achieves the open, airy look characteristic of Switchgrass, but it manages to be stiff and upright in habit with sensational metallic-blue foliage. This native is drought-tolerant, hot and cold resistant, and never needs staking. Its seed heads float over the delicate blades in late July and August to a height of 4–5', turning tan color over winter. A great wildlife cover.
Plant 36 inches apartZone 5–9full sun
virgatum ‘Shenandoah’ Red Switchgrass
You may wonder at yet another red Switchgrass, but this gorgeous Panicum has the brightest burgundy fall foliage we’ve seen so far.Green leaves at 4' in early summer, begin turning dark red in July, and are a rich burgundy by September.Looking for all the world like Blood Grass on steroids, its red panicles appear in August.
Fountain Grasses are about as versatile as an ornamental grass can be. This mound grower has finely textured, arching, rich-green leaf blades with rose/coppery-tan seed plumes or “fox tails” that appear on the tufts in August to October, then last all winter, reaching a height of 3–4'. This popular Fountain Grass is used extensively for borders, in masses, as an accent or specimen plant, or incorporated in water or poolside plantings. Try it with Feather Reed Grass, Asters, Joe Pye Weed, Black Eyed Susans, Sedums, or Yucca, to name just a few.
‘Hameln’ is almost identical to P. alopecuroides, but is a bit more compact, blooms a little earlier beginning in July, and is shorter in height at 2–3' tall. Its tassles emerge rosy and turn a coppery tan. Keep in mind that all the Fountain Grasses are tuft or mound-growers, so they are definitely not invasive.
Plant 24–30" apartZone 5–9full sun
alopecuroides‘Moudry’ Black Flowering Fountain Grass
Its striking, long, dark-brown, almost black, plumes emerge neatly from the arching, deep green leaf blades in September on this late blooming Fountain Grass. ‘Moudry’ is compact and neat at 2–3' and makes a good cut flower.
Plant 24–30" apartZone 5–9full sun
orientale Oriental Fountain Grass
This is another Fountain Grass with fox tail-like flowers from July to October that grow to 2–3' in height. Its look is more delicate and open than P. alopecuroides or ‘Hameln’.Its foliage has a gray-green appearance that blends with its lovely, purplish-pink, arching seed heads that turn white later in the summer.
Plant 24" apart Zone 6–9full sun
Striking maroon leaves keep their color all summer, and the 6–8" long maroon seed heads are lovely from June until frost on this 4' Fountain Grass. This is a perennial that is not hardy through our winter. Simply treat it as an annual and you won’t be disappointed.
Plant 24 to 30" apartZone 8–10full sun
arundinacea ‘Strawberries and Cream’
A bit of pink variegation appears with the white and green leaves on this native Ribbon Grass. Its foliage is a bit finer than ‘Picta’, it is 2' in height, but is also an aggressive grower, tolerating wet conditions.
Plant 24" apartZone 4–9 full sun
scoparium ‘The Blues’ Little Bluestem
A widespread US native, Little Bluestem is effective massed as a naturalized ground cover for erosion control, or as a specimen in the border or rock garden. Its narrow, upright, light-blue foliage has soft, somewhat hairy leaves about 12" long, but most of its 3' height consists of delicate flower spikes that appear from July through September. Little Bluestem is known for holding its bronze to flaming-orange fall color well into winter, and has attractive seed heads as well