Ornamental grasses are versatile garden plants, adding movement and texture in borders, and no-mow alternatives to traditional lawns. Myriad varietals are available for your landscaping needs, with characteristics like attractive inflorescences, different textures, bold colors, in low-growing mats or spiky heights. These perennials are low-maintenance and hardy enough for the different regions around the country.
Grasses for the Northeast
If you live in this area, you enjoy short, but mild to moderate summers along the coast, with longer, hotter summers further inland. Prepping for extreme winter weather is a given, but don't forget the hurricanes that can happen in the mid to latter part of the year. Landscaping choices must be able to withstand pretty much anything.
Purple Fountain Grass
This graceful plant can grow three to five feet tall and two to four feet wide with a rounded growth habit. Soft, feathery plumes dance at the end of tall stems from summer until frost. These little lovelies can handle a bit of thirst, and are not likely to suffer the attentions of deer.
Sometimes called Japanese Forest Grass, this beautiful mounding ornamental has variegated foliage ranging from chartreuse to apple green, turning coppery orange when the weather starts to cool down. Its gentle cascading habit adds mystery to a shady spot whether planted in the ground, in drifts, or as an accent piece in a container. Native to Japan, this tough plant can grow to 24 inches tall, spreading slowly in clumps, so threat of becoming invasive is minimal.
Named for the body part of the animal it resembles, these fuzzy perennials are low-growing and perfect for the front of a flower border. It produces a spike of charming, purple flowers which attract valuable pollinators to your yard. The fleshy, velvety leaves are gray and a perfect foil to the riot of colors that occur in the garden. They naturalize easily and return in ever spreading clumps each year, but the brittle stems make them easy to remove if you need to tame them.
Grasses for the Midwest
Temperatures in this region can vary over 100 degrees between winter and summer. Frigid cold and brutal heat with high humidity characterize typical conditions. Amount of precipitation depends on location, and can average 36 inches in Northern Minnesota to a whopping 70 inches average snowfall in areas bordering Lake Superior. Moderate spring and autumn temps range from 50 to 70 degrees—a good time to get your planting on!
Feather Reed Grass
Growing to about five feet tall, this ornamental adds an upright and narrow element, and is best planted in groups for a fuller effect. The flower spikes resemble feathers at the end of the stems that can last into winter. It's tolerant of heavy soils, but likes to keep its feet fairly moist.
Japanese Blood Grass
As the name implies, this grass adds dramatic color as it turns nearly blood red in the fall. It’s a hardy plant that likes moist soil with good drainage, and can be aggressive in the flower bed, so use sparingly and with caution. Its beauty may outweigh its assertive habit, and you may prefer to plant in containers to enjoy it without having to work too hard to manage it. It grows in a clump to 18 inches tall, spreading to nearly three feet.
There are several varieties of Japanese Silvergrass, some of which are not hardy to this area, so check with your local nursery. The types suitable to the brutal winters appreciate full sun with moist soil, growing up to eight feet tall. Their size makes them perfect as a natural screen in the garden, or else a single specimen plant near water features.
Grasses for the South
The challenges of hot, humid summers are no big deal to folks who are no stranger to extreme weather in the form of hurricanes and severe flooding. Thankfully there are ornamentals with the same hardiness and strength as the good people of this area.
Mexican Feather Grass
Both leaves and flowers of this weeping ornamental are finely textured and delicate. It grows in an airy mound, up to 24 inches tall. It likes full sun, and doesn’t suffer from thirsty habits so plant it with other like-minded companions. Planted in groups, the foliage undulates in the wind with a ripple effect for soothing movement in the garden.
Muhly Grass or Hairgrass
Another finely textured ornamental, this one sports a cloud of pink or white flowers that seem to hover over the foliage when in bloom. Heat and drought tolerant, as well as disease resistant, hairgrass grows to almost three feet of bluish gray clumping foliage. It’s also known to attract beneficial insects like ladybugs, and is a great source of cover for various wildlife and birds.
Grasses for the Southwest
Arid and dry, this region is lucky to be able to grow a host of ornamental grasses without much effort. Of course, that in itself can be a problem as many of the warm season grasses reseed easily, potentially becoming invasive. Use caution when selecting and placing these versatile plants.
This low-grower is at home at the front of a flower border or planted in flowing drifts. It likes cooler temps that higher elevations can deliver, but can be planted in the warmer low elevations as long as it gets some shade. Depending on the variety, it can grow to 18 or 30 inches tall and is a water saver for its drought tolerance. The blue-green color adds a cooling effect to the color palette of your garden, with playful spiky mounds that grow to two feet tall.
As a southwest native, this tall ornamental is at home in the arid landscape. It can reach six feet tall and five feet wide, is drought tolerant, with airy flowers that delicately float above the finely clumped foliage. It doesn’t have the wide fluffy seedheads that pampas grass has, but does have attractive inflorescences that can be cut and brought indoors for fall and winter decorations. And as a native, it isn’t the potential threat that pampas grass can be.
Grasses for the Northwest
Majestic evergreens, mountains, and rocky coastlines provide a variety of microclimates that can support several types of ornamental grasses. West of the Cascades, the gray wet days dominate, while eastward you can be sure to have hot summers and frigid winters.
With names like Blue Zinger, Red Rooster, and Cappucino, sedges are an intriguing set of plants to introduce to your garden. They don’t grow more than a foot tall with an 18 inch spread, so plant them in groups for the best impact. They like moist, well-drained soil, and can tolerate sun to light or part shade.
Available in different heights and colors, these versatile plants add softness and movement to the gardenscape. It's easy to care for and fast growing to three feet tall and wide. Showy plumes make attractive cuttings for indoor displays.
No matter where you live, there's an ornamental grass that will delightfully enhance your gardenscape.