Top 10 Ornamental Grasses
No perennial garden is complete without a few of these top picks.
Stacy Tornio & Ellie Martin Cliffe
We love grass. No, we’re not talking about the luscious green stuff
that grows like crazy in spring and then turns to a crusty brown
by the end of summer. We’re talking about ornamental grasses—
the unsung heroes of gardens across North America.
They are some of the easiest, most resilient and longest-lasting perennials you can grow. Take a look at some of our favorite ornamentals and get tips
for growing them in your backyard. Once you try a few of these top picks, we’re sure you’re going to have a whole new outlook on grass, too.
, Zones 5-9)
With full tufts of fuzzy flower spikes, this ethereal
grass seems to be heaven-sent. One or more of its many varieties will add charm to your backyard paradise. This grass reaches 2 to 5 feet.
Why we love it: A backyard staple, it is easy to care for and has distinctive foliage. If you add only one grass to your yard, this might be it.
You’ll be on cloud nine with the fluffy tops of this ornamental. The big, showy flower heads and height of up to 12 feet give it a graceful profile. In autumn, its silky gray panicles turn maroon or purplish-brown. Plant miscanthus in a sun-drenched area.
Why we love it: You definitely get your money’s worth with this plant. With heights of up to 12 feet, it’s a natural for the back of borders.
Japanese forest grass
, Zones 5-9)
This slow-growing plant has dense masses of arching golden stems that take on a reddish-pink tinge in fall. To enliven a shady area, plant it as a specimen, ground cover or border.
Why we love it: The color it provides is phenomenal and often lasts into winter.
Feather Reed Grass
(Calamagrostis x acutiflora
This plant’s tall, upright habit gives it plenty of winter
appeal. In fact, this drought-tolerant grass is handsome almost year-round: Starting in summer, its green foliage is topped by plush, silvery-bronze to purple flowers that turn to wheat-colored seed heads that last into snowy weather.
Why we love it: The popular, easy-to-grow Karl Foerster grass is one of the cultivars of feather reed grass.
W. Atlee Burpee & Co.
Add some drama to your yard with these fast-growing, eye-catching plumes. Feathery pampas grass grows up to 10 feet high and 5 feet wide, but some of the more compact cultivars, including Pumila and Compacta, produce plants up to 6 feet. Note: Invasive in some areas.
Why we love it: You can find pampas grass plumes in many shades, including white, yellow and pink, like the Pink Pampas pictured here, available from Burpee.
The Garden Picture Library
, zones 4-8)
Lovers of this grass don’t mind having the blues at all.
You’ll warm up to blue fescue, too, for its compact,
container-friendly tufts and bright hue. It grows about
6 to 12 inches tall.
Why we love it: It’s one of the few true blue foliage
plants around. Plus, there are many cultivars to pick from.
Blue oat grass
, Zones 4-8)
Planted in a border or container, or used as a stand-alone accent, blue oat grass commands attention. This ornamental attains greater height and stronger blades than blue fescue. For best foliage color, give it full sun in cool regions and light shade in warm areas.
Why we love it: It tolerates poor soil and adapts well to a variety of conditions.
Zones 4 to 9)
This versatile grass is a good choice for wet conditions, drought or partial shade. Growing narrow and upright, with a cloud of seed heads in fall, switchgrass can reach more than 5 feet tall. This grass is native to North America and reseeds readily. Select a variety for more contained growth.
Why we love it: The light-brown leaves make an interesting winter accent.
Indian grass will add stunning greens, glowing bronzes
and cool blues to your garden throughout the year with just a little work on your part. It grows up to 4 feet high and 2 feet wide. For a grass with bluish leaves, try the cultivar Sioux Blue.
Why we love it: It’s a sturdy, upright grass with a spectacular columnar look.
Japanese Blood Grass
Get ready 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 autumn. This grass stands erect, topping out at 2 feet, and tolerates a variety of soils. It can become invasive, so plant with care.
Why we love it: It’s a smaller grass, but it packs a big punch. As far as fall color goes, it takes top honors.