Ornamental Grasses for Landscaping

When it comes to landscaping your home, ornamental grasses are the perfect addition to any planting. Or they can work beautifully on their own.

Their textures and movement add fresh, modern style to everything from a rustic farmhouse entry to a sleek, minimalist deck garden.

Ornamental grasses can offer four seasons of interest in the landscape if you allow the seed heads and foliage to remain in place over the winter. Nothing is as beautiful as snow-covered grasses, which take on spectacular sculptural forms.

Growing ornamental grasses

Some of the easiest plans to grow and maintain, ornamental grasses require knowing only a few basics:

  • Most ornamental grasses are deer-resistant. Hooray! This means you don’t have to worry where you plant them. The leaves are too sharp for the deer to chew.
  • Some ornamental grasses are considered invasive species in the U.S., depending on the state. Please check with your local cooperative extension office for help finding out more information before you plant.
  • Over time, some ornamental grasses begin to grow in a ring with a hollow center. If this happens. you’ll need to dig up the plant and divide it into two or more clumps and replant just one in the same spot. You can use the other section (or sections) elsewhere.
  • Very large grasses can be extremely hard to dig and divide and might require power tools to get the job done. In that case, consult with a professional landscape contractor. Call the free dig safe number (or equivalent) in your area prior any time you plan any digging.
  • Leave your ornamental grasses in place over the winter. Cut them back (i.e., remove all of the dried foliage and seed heads) in late spring just before new growth emerges.
  • Water ornamental grasses on a regular basis while they are getting established. Be sure to saturate the full root ball under the soil around once per week. After that, they should only need water in drought conditions, if at all.
  • Generally, well-drained soil is best. Follow the planting directions on the tag and adhere to the spacing suggestions.

Incorporating ornamental grasses into the landscape

Plant medium and large ornamental grasses the same way you might plant shrubs. They can serve as specimen or “feature” plants, flank a doorway, or anchor a corner.

Larger grasses make great screening and privacy plantings.

Smaller ornamental grasses look fantastic massed together. Their texture provides a lot of wow-factor and also can act as a weed-suppressing and erosion-controlling groundcover.

Choosing companion plants

Ornamental grasses are surprisingly neutral among plantings and go with just about anything you want to plan alongside. Personally, I favor using “Mediterranean” plants with ornamental grasses, or generally any drought-resistant plants, which seem to me to have the same vibe.

I love grasses planted with yarrow, lavender, black-eyes Susans, and sedum. I’ve also seen beautiful minimalist plantings of grasses, boxwood, and spring bulbs. A great gardening friend of mine once planted zebra grasses with Pinky Winky hydrangeas at the corner of her house. Dazzling! The possibilities are endless.

Three rockstar ornamental grasses

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’

A favorite plant among landscape designers, this wonderful large grass offers beautiful movement in the breeze.

The green foliage of Morning Light Miscanthus features a faint white stripe that makes it appear to “gleam.” In the fall, it produces stunning plumes, which darken to a coppery color over time.

These grasses are fantastic as part of a foundation planting, deck or patio planting, and can be used as a low screen (use zebra grass miscanthus if you need a taller screen).

USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 5-9. Height: 4′ to 6′. Spread: 2.5′ to 4′ (or more). Full sun (best) to partial shade. Average soil and water needs.

Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’

I discovered dwarf fountain grass when a friend suggested to my volunteer committee that we plant it around the fountain in the central village park where I live. A perfect choice!

Its compact habit, foxtail-shaped blooms, and medium size makes it fits in just about anywhere. These plants look especially nice planted in groups. Fountain grass can also work well as a ground cover, perhaps on a small slope to control erosion.

USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 4-11. Height: 1.5′ to 2.5′. Spread: 1.5′ to 2.5′ (or more). Full sun (best) to partial shade. Average soil and medium to wet water needs.

Festuca glauca ‘Elijah Blue’

This small blue grass is truly breathtaking. I always do a doubletake when I come upon it in a garden or landscape.

The blue-green color turns a richer, dustier shade in fall, and it sticks around all winter.

Another great one to plant en masse, blue fescue grass can act as ground cover, but a single plant makes a fun specimen plant in a small planting bed, too.

USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 4-8. Height: 18″. Spread: 10″ to 12″. Full sun. Average soil and water needs.

This post appeared previously on The Simple Landscape blog.


Elizabeth Douglas is the founder of Pocket Meadows. She holds a degree in landscape architectural studies and is a member of the NY State Nursery & Landscape Association.

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