Ornamental Grasses You Should Get to Know
Ornamental grass is beautiful, boisterous and bountiful. They’re also easy to grow and pretty much deer- and drought-tolerant. Here are 10 you might want to try in your own yard.
Fountain Ornamental Grass
Fountain ornamental grass (Pennisetum spp.) gets its name from the graceful, fountainlike foliage. The shape alone is enough reason to grow this beautiful grass. But then it’s decorated by fuzzy flower plumes in late summer. In fall, the foliage turns buff, making it a nice contrast against darker plants like the kale in this photo. This is ‘Hamlen’ dwarf fountain grass, which reaches just 2-3 feet tall. Zones 4-11.
Plus: Here’s how to grow grass.
Prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis) is a handsome prairie ornamental grass with emerald green, hairlike foliage, and an arching shape. The foliage grows just 15-18 inches tall, with flower spikes reaching twice that height in late summer. Being tolerant of poor, dry soils, prairie dropseed is well suited for erosion control on slopes. It can also be used to replace lawn grass, needing less watering, fertilizing and mowing. Zones 3-9.
Photo: Luke Miller/Oldsmobile Trees
Karl Foerster Feather Reed Ornamental Grass
Karl Foerster’s feather reed ornamental grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’) has a rigid, upright shape. This grass punctuates the landscape, especially as the flower spikes begin to turn a rich golden color in fall. Foliage grows 18-24 inches tall, while the stalks (which make great cut flowers) can reach double that height. Feather reed grass accepts moist or dry soils. Zones 4-9.
Flame ornamental grass (Miscanthus ‘Purpurascens’) is known for its brilliant reddish orange fall foliage. Which is punctuated by creamy white plumes. The medium green summer foliage takes on reddish hues as the season progresses, eventually reaching a height of 3-4 feet. Zones 5-9.
Porcupine ornamental grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Strictus’) and its cousin zebra grass (M. sinensis ‘Zebrinus’) are easy to spot in the garden. The bright green blades have golden bands, so they definitely stand out. While zebra grass has a relaxed habit, it grows up to 5 feet tall. And porcupine grass is more upright and can reach 8 feet in height. Additionally, this grass is best in zones 4-9.
Maiden ornamental grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’) is exquisite when backlit by, well, morning light. Or afternoon light. Or when sitting in the garden on a cloudy day. The arching foliage is decorated with narrow stripes of white, and reaches 4 to 5 feet. And this grass looks great all season. In late summer, dramatic plumes rise another foot, carrying the show through fall and winter. Zones 5-9.
Sedge (Carex spp.) is a brightly colored, small ornamental grass for borders and containers and looks particularly good when massed. The most common varieties found at garden centers have chartreuse, variegated or even tan foliage. The unique colors of the grasslike foliage are what really make sedge a popular garden plant. Zones (4)5-8(9), depending on cultivar.
Blue fescue (Festuca glauca) is a great ornamental grass to grow when space is tight. It’s small and tidy—just 1 foot tall—so you can use it to edge the front of a flowerbed. Fortunately, the blue-gray foliage won’t get lost among the greenery. Zones 3-8.
Purple Fountain Grass
Purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Purpureum’) is the ornamental grass for people who don’t grow ornamental grass. Grown as an annual in most places, it is often used as a backdrop for annual flowerbeds and as a centerpiece in a container. The dark foliage and tan flowerheads are a sight to behold. Zones 8-11.
Dwarf pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana ‘Pumila’) is highly recognizable. Due to the huge white feathery plumes that decorate the thick, blue-green foliage in late summer and fall. Although this pampas grass is a dwarf, it still reaches 5 feet tall, so place it in the back of a border. Zones 6-10.