The Ornamental Grass Guideline

Garden Guidelines

Ornamental Grass

Ornamental grasses are a striking addition to most landscapes. They can provide multi-season interest, structure, texture, movement, and even a soothing rustling sound with the slightest breeze. They are available in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and colors. Some are very tall, providing a distinct linearity to the landscape and they range in height all the way down to dwarf varieties suitable for edging and rock gardens. Green, blue and variegated foliage are most common and many have decorative seed heads or flowers spikes that can even come in shades of pink, red and purple. Seed heads will attract birds in winter, further adding to the beauty of your landscape.

Ornamental grasses are easy to grow, require little maintenance and with a few exceptions thrive in full sun and average soil. Once established, very little water or fertilizer is needed. Most grasses will grow in neat mounds or clumps, are generally non-invasive and will grow in girth slowly over time. Every four or 5 years, you may want to divide your plants: from early spring to summer, simply dig straight down using a spade and cut out part of the clump to replant elsewhere or share with friends. It is perfectly acceptable to cut back your ornamental grasses in the late fall but it is not required. When left untouched, they continue to grace your landscape throughout the winter. In order to ensure they look their best all spring and summer, last year’s dry foliage and stem stalks should be cut back to 4-6 inches before new shoots appear in late April or early May.

Latin NameCommon NameDescriptionHeightLight Requirements

Calamagrostis

Reed Grass
Very vertical, both leaves and flowers stand upright, feathery flower plumes.
3-5 ft.

Full sun

Carex

Sedge
Mounding, technically not a grass but grass-like in appearance with strap shaped leaves and tiny flower tufts, great for borders and rock gardens. 
6 in. – 3 ft.

Depending on variety, full sun to shade

Chasmanthium

Northern Sea Oats
Native, upright with drooping seed head resembling oats, great fall color. May self-seed in some locations.
3-4 ft. 

Shade tolerant

Deschampsia 

Tufted Hair Grass
North American native, feathery flowers on arched stems rise 3 ft. above foliage. May self-seed in some locations.
2-3 ft.

Partial shade

Eragrostis spectabilis

Purple Lovegrass
North American native, airy purplish flowers form an ethereal cloud over the foliage. May self-seed in some locations.
1-2 ft.

Full sun

Festuca Glauca

Blue Fescue
Densely tufted, compact, bluish shades, good for edging and rock gardens.
6-8 in.

Tolerates shade but sun brings out bluish hue.

Hakonechloa Macra

Japanese Forest Grass
Loose cascading mounds, deep green to gold, variegated cultivars available.
12-18 in.

Shade to part shade

Helictotrichon

Blue Oat Grass
Narrow, spiky, steel blue leaf blades, forms a rounded clump, similar to blue fescue but taller, great for borders and rock gardens.
2-3 ft. tall

Full sun

Miscanthus

Maiden Grass or Fairy Grass
Asian native, dense clump of upward arching growth with rounded fountain appearance, spectacular airy flower plumes. May self-seed in some locations.
3-7 ft.

Full sun

Molinia caerulea arundinacea

Purple Moor Grass
Tall, upright to arching green and purple flower clusters turn into coppery seed heads in fall, foliage and seed stalks golden in fall. May self-seed in some locations.
6 to 8 ft.

Full sun

Muhlenbergia

Muhly Grass
North American native, dense mound of foliage, pink to reddish clouds of flowers, blooms in fall. May self-seed in some locations.
1.5 – 3 ft.

Full sun to part shade

Panicum

Switchgrass
Native American prairie grass, upright and vertical, large and delicate flowers.Typically 5-8 ft. but some shorter varieties available
Full sun

Pennisetum

Fountain Grass
Upright with gracefully cascading fountains of leaves, small tan, pink or purple bottlebrush flowers.
1-3 ft.

Full sun

Schizachyrium

Little Bluestem
Native to American prairies, blue-green in summer, turns beautiful shades of brown, copper and crimson in fall.
2-4 ft.

Full sun

Sporobolus

Prairie Dropseed
Native North American prairie grass, arching mound of foliage, topped by fine haze of uniquely fragrant pinkish-brown flowers. 
2-3 ft.

Full sun
Flowering grasses in late summer

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