12 Ornamental Grasses to Bring Texture and Height to Your Garden Spaces

Ornamental grasses are valued because of their showy display and variable textures. Gardeners use them to create gorgeous borders, to give container gardens height, and to add depth to garden spaces.

Mexican Feather GrassView in gallery

Ornamental grasses vary in height, color, and texture which means that you can use different varieties throughout your garden. They bring a more natural and free-style look to manicured gardens.

What are Ornamental Grasses?

Ornamental grasses cover a wide range of plants that are true grasses and some that have a “grass-like” appearance.

According to the Clemson Cooperative Extension, the plants that we classify as ornamental grasses have a linear form and parallel veining, though some are sedges rather than true grasses. For common purposes, these plants function in the same way and add texture and depth to gardens and containers.

General Ornamental Grass Care Requirements

Each ornamental grass has specific care needs, but there are some general guidelines for their care that are helpful to understand.

Light Needs

Most ornamental grass types grow best in full sun. Some varieties can tolerate partial shade. Even the ones who require full sun, may work in partial shade, but their flowering will not be as prolific and they may become too leggy with sparse foliage.


Water Needs

Make sure to water ornamental grasses when you first plant them to help them recover from the shock. After they become established, they will not need regular watering unless they are in a container. During times of drought, even established grasses may need supplemental waterings.


Soil Conditions

Most ornamental grasses prefer well draining soil. There are some varieties that prefer moist or boggy soil.


Fertilizer

Ornamental grasses do not need regular fertilization during the growing season. Enriching the surrounding soil with compost when you plant the grass and at the beginning of the season, provides as much fertilizer as most plants need. You can also apply a slow release fertilizer at the beginning of the growing season which will last through the spring and summer. Excessive fertilization can cause the grasses to develop diseases.


Ornamental Grasses Pests and Diseases

Immature plants and new growth can be susceptible to aphids and spider mites. If you see signs of these pests, spray your grasses with insecticidal spray.

Most grass diseases are caused by poor draining soil and plants with no air circulation because they are too close together. If your grasses look sick, remove dead or dying foliage. Transplant some of the grasses to other areas to space your plants out.


Ornamental Grass Propagation

The best way to propagate ornamental grasses is through division. If your plants become too large, some will begin dying out in the middle. In this case, cut back the plant. Then, dig up the root ball. Using a sharp knife or spade, divide the ball into smaller sections. Plant each section with a mixture of soil and compost. According to the University of Illinois Extension, divide cool season grasses in the early spring before growth begins or warm season grasses in the early fall after growth has ceased.


Pruning and Maintenance

Cut back most ornamental grasses before they begin their growing season to help ensure space for new growth. Prune cool-season grasses in the spring. Cut back warm-season grasses in the fall or in mid-spring before growth begins.

Mulch around your grass plants to keep them weed free and help the soil keep in moisture.

Uses for Ornamental Grass

Textured plants like ornamental grasses are wonderful to add interest in gardens or containers. Create natural looking borders and give gardens height with tall ornamental grasses. They also keep your garden looking great in the winter with varied texture and color. Use ornamental grasses to create privacy hedges or to cover a fence. For more tropical style privacy hedges, utilize areca palms or bird of paradise plants


12 Best Varieties of Ornamental Grass

Here is a list of different ornamental grasses that we have gathered. These are varied by size, color, texture, and planting times.

  1. Pink Muhly Grass

Pink Muhly GrassView in gallery

This tall ornamental grass is one of the easiest to grow and most popular grass plants. It has tall slender stems with feathery pinkish purple seed heads that create a gorgeous haze in the late summer to early fall.

  • Growing Zones 5-9
  • 2-4 feet tall, 2-3 feet wide
  • 6-8 hours of sunlight to bloom
  • Well-drained, dry soil
  • Drought tolerant once mature
  1. Mondo Grass

Mondo GrassView in gallery

Mondo is a short ornamental grass with a dense growth habit. It works well as a ground cover and comes in colors ranging from light green to deep purple

  • Growing Zones 6-10
  • 12-15 inches tall, 1-3 feet wide
  • Full sun to partial shade
  • Well-drained soil
  • Water a few times a week until established, them cut back to once every week
  1. Maiden Grass

Mexican Feather GrassView in gallery

Maiden Grass is one of the tall ornamental grasses with graceful bending foliage with white plumes that bloom from the summer through the fall and winter. This is one of the best tall grasses for privacy as it can gain a height of 8 feet. It is considered invasive in certain areas of the USA, so check your local extension office to find out if it is invasive in your area. You can also look for sterile or non-invasive varieties.

  • Growing Zones 5-9
  • 3-8 feet tall, 3-5 feet wide
  • Full sun to partial shade
  • Well-drained, moist soil
  • Water a few times a week until established, them cut back to once every week
  1. Flame Ornamental Grass

Flame Ornamental GrassView in gallery

This is a tall decorative grass plant that has dark burgundy stems with white flowers. It looks magnificent in groups or borders. This tall accent grass works well around ponds as it prefers wetter soil than other perennial grasses.

  • Growing Zones 4-8
  • 4-5 feet tall, 3 feet wide
  • Full sun to partial shade
  • Well-drained, moist soil
  • Water a few times a week until established, them cut back to once every week
  1. Japanese Forest Grass

Japanese Forest GrassView in gallery

Japanese forest grass is a low growing grass and one of the few that grows well in the shade. Each leaf has an arching growth pattern so it appears much lower to the ground. This grass works well as a border and a container plant.

  • Growing Zones 4-8
  • 2-3 feet tall, up to 24 wide
  • Partial shade
  • Well-drained, moist soil
  • Water a few times a week to keep soil moist
  1. Sedge Ornamental Grass

Sedge Ornamental GrassView in gallery

Sedge ornamental grass is another low growing variety that is popular for its light green or variegated appearance. It has a mound-like growth pattern that looks the best when planted as a group.

  • Growing Zones 4-9
  • 6 inches to 3 feet tall, 1.5-2 feet wide
  • Partial sun to shade
  • Works well in a variety of soil conditions
  • Water at least once a week or more during droughts
  1. Fountain Grass

Fountain GrassView in gallery

Fountain grasses have tall and graceful arching stems with showy plumes. It is easy to grow and popular for borders and in containers. It has a smaller growing zone than other ornamental grasses, but it can be grown as an annual in other growing zones. This grass is considered invasive but sterile varieties are available.

  • Growing Zones 8-11
  • 2-3 feet tall, 2-3 feet wide
  • Full sun to partial shade
  • Works well in a variety of soil conditions
  • Water at least once a week or more during droughts
  1. Blue Fescue Ornamental Grass

Blue Fescue Ornamental GrassView in gallery

Blue Fescue is a short and compact ornamental grass. It has gorgeous thread-like blue/gray foliage with wheat-like tips. It gives garden borders and containers depth and texture.

  • Growing Zones 4-8
  • 10-12 inches tall, 2 feet wide.
  • Full sun to partial shade
  • Tolerates poor soil conditions
  • Water at least once a week or more during droughts
  1. Switchgrass

SwitchgrassView in gallery

This is a prairie grass with different varieties. Each tolerates different soil varieties. Switchgrass has a dense column form with narrow green leaves with feathery growth at the end tinted with red. These turn from yellow to beige in the winter. Because of its dense growth, it is one of the best decorative grasses for a privacy hedge.

  • Growing Zones 3-9
  • 2.5-5 feet tall
  • Full sun to partial shade
  • Tolerates moist to dry soil conditions
  • Water at least once a week or more during droughts
  1. Northern Sea Oats

Northern Sea OatsView in gallery

Northern sea oats is a small perennial grass. It has flat multi-seed heads that turn from green to bronze with the changing seasons. This is one of the best decorative grasses for shade gardens as it blooms well in the shade as in the sun.

  • Growing Zones 3-9
  • 1-3 feet tall, 18-30 inches wide
  • Full sun to partial shade
  • Tolerates moist to dry soil conditions
  • Water at least once a week or more during droughts
  1. Dwarf Pampas Grass

Dwarf Pampas GrassView in gallery

Dwarf pampas grass has tall upright green stems crowned with dramatic white plumes. It is a drought tolerant grass variety that needs little water once mature. This dwarf variety (Cortaderia Pumila) is distinct from the larger Pampas Grass varieties like Cortaderia selloana that are invasive. This is a sterile grass that does not reseed.

  • Growing Zones 6-10
  • 3-6 feet tall, 3-4 feet wide
  • Full sun
  • Tolerates moist to dry soil conditions
  • Water at least once a week or more during droughts
  1. Mexican Feather Grass

Mexican Feather GrassView in gallery

Mexican feather grass is beloved by gardeners for its delicate look and graceful arching form. It works well in different levels of sunlight, but it needs well-draining soil to retain its silvery look that gardeners prize. Once plants are mature, they are drought tolerant.

  • Growing Zones 6-10
  • 1-3 feet tall, 1-2 feet wide
  • Full sun to partial shade
  • Tolerates dry soil conditions
  • Water at least once a week or more during droughts

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)FAQ

Should I plant ornamental grass species that are invasive?

Do not plant invasive species unless you are willing to manage it so that it doesn’t take over your own and your neighbors’ yards. Certain invasive grasses are discouraged in parts of the country where their growth patterns are considered too aggressive. If you are questioning a certain variety of grass, check your local extension office to see if it is a good idea in your area or look for sterile varieties of the species before planting it.

Which ornamental grasses are the best for container gardens?

Use ornamental grass with a variety of textures and colors for container gardens. Some of the best grasses are purple fountain grass, Japanese forest grass, sedge, and Mexican feather grass.

Which are the best tall grasses for privacy?

Tall grasses work the best to create privacy hedges. Try blue oat grass, feather reed grass, pink muhly grass, or fountain grass to create graceful privacy borders.

Have any states banned ornamental grasses?

In 2021, the governor of Nevada, banned the use of ornamental grasses in southern Nevada because they require more water than drought tolerant plants like cacti.

Conclusion

Ornamental grasses are a gift that continues for every season. They provide beautiful color in the spring and summer to support and define your garden. In the winter, when your other plants have died back, ornamental grasses provide interesting texture and depth in bare garden spaces.