17 Top Ornamental Grasses

Give your garden four seasons of interest with low-maintenance ornamental grasses. Here are some of the best varieties.

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  • Feather Reedgrass

    The most popular ornamental grass, feather reedgrass offers a distinct upright habit that looks fantastic all winter long. Like many grasses, this tough plant tolerates a wide range of conditions.

    Name: Calamagrostis 'Karl Foerster'

    Growing Conditions: Full sun and well-drained soil

    Size: To 6 feet tall

    Zones: 5-9

    Plant This Grass Because: It has a nice architectural shape.

    Native to North America: No

  • Fountaingrass

    A beautiful, mounding plant, fountaingrass offers a beautiful shape -- as well as soft, feathery plumes that dance in the breeze.

    Name: Pennisetum alopecuroides

    Growing Conditions: Full sun and well-drained soil

    Size: To 5 feet tall

    Zones: 5-9

    Plant This Grass Because: It offers a graceful, arching shape and beautiful plumes.

    Native to North America: No

  • Video: Dividing Grasses

    Watch this quick video for tips on dividing ornamental grasses to keep them healthy and beautiful.

  • Little Bluestem

    A lovely, tough-as-nails prairie native, little bluestem offers gray-green leaf blades that turn bold shades of purple, red, and orange in autumn.

    Name: Schizachyrium scoparium

    Growing Conditions: Full sun and well-drained soil

    Size: To 3 feet tall

    Zones: 4-9

    Plant This Grass Because: It has beautiful blue coloring in summer and good fall color.

    Native to North America: Yes

  • Switchgrass

    One of our favorite grasses, switchgrass offers airy plumes in late summer and fall. It looks great during the season, too: Many varieties (such as 'Dallas Blues') offer blue-gray foliage during the season and turn brilliant shades of gold or red in autumn.

    Name: Panicum virgatum

    Growing Conditions: Full sun or part shade and well-drained soil

    Size: To 5 feet tall

    Zones: 4-9

    Plant This Grass Because: It's good for wildlife, has beautiful fall color, and tolerates partial shade.

    Native to North America: Yes

  • Blue Oatgrass

    It's tough to beat blue oatgrass for a low-care plant with steel-blue color. It also has a wonderful mounded habit and won't spread and take over your garden.

    Name: Helictotrichon sempervirens

    Growing Conditions: Full sun and well-drained soil

    Size: To 4 feet tall

    Zones: 4-9

    Plant This Grass Because: It has beautiful silvery-blue color.

    Native to North America: No

  • Purple Millet

    This incredibly tough annual grass offers fantastic burgundy foliage and rich purple foliage that look like fuzzy cattails. The plants are beautiful and attract birds.

    Name: Pennisetum glaucum

    Growing Conditions: Full sun or part shade and well-drained soil

    Size: To 5 feet tall

    Zones: Annual

    Plant This Grass Because: It has rich purple foliage.

    Native to North America: No

  • Cordgrass

    An underutilized selection, cordgrass is a spreading prairie grass that thrives in moist or wet soils. As such, it's a good choice for growing along the side of a pond or stream.

    Name: Spartina pectinata

    Growing Conditions: Full sun and moist soil

    Size: To 7 feet tall

    Zones: 4-7

    Plant This Grass Because: It doesn't mind moist, or even wet, soils.

    Native to North America: Yes

  • Japanese Forestgrass

    One of our favorite low-growing species, this gorgeous plant offers a perfect mounding habit. Variegated selections (such as 'Aureola' or 'All Gold') bear brightly colored foliage that light up shady corners.

    Name: Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola'

    Growing Conditions: Part shade and well-drained soil

    Size: To 1 foot tall

    Zones: 5-9

    Plant This Grass Because: It adds bright color to shade gardens.

    Native to North America: No

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    Maidengrass

    One of the most common grasses, maidengrass is big, beautiful, and easy to grow. It offers narrow, arching foliage (many selections are variegated; look for them to add more color to your landscape) and silvery plumes that are enchanting when the light catches them just right.

    Name: Miscanthus sinensis

    Growing Conditions: Full sun and moist, well-drained soil

    Size: To 8 feet tall

    Zones: 4-9

    Plant This Grass Because: It has pretty plumes and a graceful arching habit.

    Native to North America: No

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    Fiber Opticgrass

    An unusual tender perennial often grown as an annual, fiber opticgrass has a fine texture and low, mounding habit perfect for container gardens.

    Name: Isolepis cernua

    Growing Conditions: Full sun or part shade and moist soil

    Size: To 6 inches tall

    Zones: 10-11 (usually grown as an annual in colder Zones)

    Plant This Grass Because: It fits in small spaces and has an unusual appearance.

    Native to North America: Yes

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    Ravennagrass

    A massive, fast-growing perennial, ravennagrass sends up towering, silvery plumes that can top 10 feet. It makes a strong statement in the autumn landscape.

    Name: Saccharum ravennae

    Growing Conditions: Full sun and well-drained soil

    Size: To 12 feet tall

    Zones: 6-9

    Plant This Grass Because: It's tall and has beautiful plumes.

    Native to North America: No

  • 13 of 24

    Purple Fountaingrass

    A favorite of gardeners everywhere because of its burgundy-red foliage all season long, this tender perennial is often used in container gardens.

    Name: Pennisetum setaceum 'Purpureum'

    Growing Conditions: Full sun and well-drained soil

    Size: To 3 feet tall

    Zones: 9-10 (grown as an annual in cooler climates)

    Plant This Grass Because: It offers rich, deep purple color.

    Native to North America: No

  • 14 of 24

    Northern Sea Oats

    This fast-spreading species is loved for its interesting seed heads, which hang off the stems and look like wind chimes. Note: It is a fast spreader, so plant with care.

    Name: Chasmanthium latifolium

    Growing Conditions: Full sun or part shade and well-drained soil

    Size: To 3 feet tall

    Zones: 5-9

    Plant This Grass Because: Its seed heads are great in fall.

    Native to North America: Yes

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    Zebragrass

    We love zebragrass because of its bold color: Each leaf blade features a series of bright yellow bands. The plant really stands out in the landscape! Zebragrass also has a nice upright habit that looks great in the perennial border.

    Name: Miscanthus sinensis 'Strictus'

    Growing Conditions: Full sun and moist, well-drained soil

    Size: To 5 feet tall

    Zones: 4-9

    Plant This Grass Because: It has boldly colored foliage.

    Native to North America: No

  • 16 of 24

    Purple Moorgrass

    Purple moorgrass offers delightful mounding foliage that turns brilliant gold in autumn. It's a nice choice for partially shaded gardens.

    Name: Molinia caerulea

    Growing Conditions: Full sun or part shade and moist soil

    Size: To 5 feet tall

    Zones: 5-9

    Plant This Grass Because: It has a bold shape, good fall color, and tolerates part shade.

    Native to North America: No

  • 17 of 24

    Hairgrass

    Hairgrass is an evergreen (depending on climate) grass with airy plumes in shades of golden, silver, purple, and green. The plant has an attractive mounding habit, as well.

    Name: Deschampsia cespitosa

    Growing Conditions: Full sun to part shade and moist, well-drained soil

    Size: To 6 feet tall

    Zones: 5-9

    Plant This Grass Because: It doesn't mind part shade or consistently moist soil.

    Native to North America: No

  • 18 of 24

    Blue Fescue

    A short grass perfect for edging or as a groundcover, blue fescue offers powder-blue foliage on tidy, dwarf mounds.

    Name: Festuca glauca

    Growing Conditions: Full sun or part shade and well-drained soil

    Size: To 1 foot tall

    Zones: 4-8

    Plant This Grass Because: It has beautiful silvery-blue color and a small size that fits nearly anywhere.

    Native to North America: Yes

  • 19 of 24

    Dwarf Pampasgrass

    Growing just 4-5 feet tall, dwarf pampasgrass develops showy white flower plumes in the late summer and fall. Use it in the back of the border where you can enjoy the flower heads all winter long. Like standard pampasgrass, the dwarf variety can become invasive, so plant it where its roots can't spread. It is deer- and drought-resistant and tolerates almost any soil type.

    Name: Cortaderia selloana 'Pumila'

    Growing Conditions: Full sun

    Size: 5 feet tall

    Zones: 6-10

    Plant This Grass Because: It provides winter interest.

    Native to North America: No

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    Liriope

    Also called monkey grass or lilyturf, liriope is prized for its pretty mounding, grasslike foliage. An excellent ground cover, liriope thrives in sun or shade and does a great job preventing erosion on steep slopes. As a bonus, the plant sends up spikes of lavender, purple, or white flowers in late summer followed by bluish black, berrylike fruits. Variegated varieties are also available. Liriope is not a true grass but a member of the lily family.

    Name: Liriope spicata

    Growing Conditions: Full sun to shade

    Size: 9-15 inches

    Zones: 5-9

    Plant This Grass Because: It makes a great groundcover.

    Native to North America: No

  • 21 of 24

    Rush

    Thriving in wet, poorly drained soils, rush produces richly colored, grasslike foliage that looks terrific all summer long. This super easy plant will even thrive when planted in shallow water. It will also grow well in containers mixed with other moisture-lovers, such as elephant’s ear and canna lily. One of our favorites is ‘Twister’ a variety with interesting, bright green, curled foliage.

    Name: Juncus effusus

    Growing Conditions: Full sun

    Size: 18-24 inches tall

    Zones: 5-9

    Plant This Grass Because: It tolerates wet soil.

    Native to North America: Yes

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    Big Bluestem

    Native to the American prairie, Big Bluestem is a tall, handsome grass that adapts easily to any landscape. In the spring, the foliage of Big Bluestem starts out blue-green, gradually turning green with hints of red and finally changing to reddish bronze in the fall. The plants grow well in moist or dry soils. This grass can be slow to take hold but will eventually form large, upright clumps.

    Name: Andropogon gerardii

    Growing Conditions: Sun

    Size: 4-8 feet tall

    Zones: 4-9

    Plant This Grass Because: It looks great in all seasons.

    Native to North America: Yes

  • 23 of 24

    Mexican Feathergrass

    Even the slightest breeze will cause the delicate flower stalks and thin leaves of Mexican feathergrass to dance delightfully on the wind. This graceful grass thrives in poor soil and tolerates dry conditions. It looks terrific planted in containers or scattered on a meadow or slope. Mexican feathergrassr is a good choice for erosion control.

    Name: Nassella tenuissima      

    Growing Conditions: Sun

    Size: 6 inches to 3 feet tall

    Zones: 6-10

    Plant This Grass Because: It is low-maintenance.

    Native to North America: Yes

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