These tough, pretty plants provide year-round food and shelter for your feathered friends. Plus, you'll enjoy the multi-season color and texture.
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Ornamental grasses provide beautiful texture, movement, and color to the landscape. They make excellent accent plants for beds and borders, and many of them even work well in containers. Adding these grasses to your yard is also an easy way to attract and feed birds. The most bird-friendly grasses offer seed-filled plumes, plus dense foliage for cover and nesting material. Just let ornamental grasses the birds love remain standing with their seed heads through the winter. During the following spring before the new growth appears, cut your grasses back to a few inches above the ground. Here are the ornamental grasses to plant in your garden to keep the birds coming back year after year.

switchgrass fall color
Credit: Blaine Moats

1. Switchgrass

One of the best perennials with showstopping fall-foliage color and texture is switchgrass. Selections of this gorgeous North American native prairie grass such as 'Shenandoah' and 'Rotstrahlbusch' have outstanding red fall color. 'Heavy Metal' is a variety that features metallic-blue leaves, which turn yellow in autumn. Ground-feeding songbirds and gamebirds eat the fallen seeds from its showy seed plumes. Reseeding is a problem for some varieties in certain areas, so cover exposed soil with a 3-inch layer of mulch to prevent your switchgrass from spreading out of bounds. Or plant it in a naturalist garden where it can spread out as it pleases.

Name: Panicum virgatum

Growing Conditions: Full sun to part shade in medium to wet soil

Size: Up to 6 feet tall

Zones: 5-9

blue fescue ornamental grass
Credit: Martin Tessler

2. Blue Fescue

The steely-blue foliage of blue fescue makes a striking garden accent. Though the seed heads of this drought-tolerant ornamental grass aren't very showy, birds like to eat the seeds. Birds also will use the dense foliage as winter cover and nesting material. This low-growing grass forms tidy mounds that work well for edging your beds and borders or as a groundcover in a sunny spot.

Name: Festuca glauca

Growing Conditions: Full sun and well-drained soil

Size: Up to 1 foot tall

Zones: 4-8

little bluestem schizachyrium scoparium
Credit: John R. Forsman

3. Little Bluestem

Named for the lavender-blue color on its stem bases, little bluestem is a native warm-season grass that's common in tallgrass prairie areas. The most striking feature of this plant is its bronze-orange fall foliage color that lasts through winter snows. The seeds in its feathery, silvery-white plumes feed birds such as cardinals, buntings, finches, grosbeaks, sparrows, and towhees from fall into spring. Birds such as field sparrows and common yellowthroats like to build nests in little bluestem’s dense foliage.

Name: Schizachyrium scoparium

Growing Conditions: Full sun and well-drained soil

Size: Up to 4 feet tall

Zones: 3-9

close up of Canadian wild rye or Elymus canadensis
Credit: Rob Cardillo

4. Canada Wild Rye

Another North American native ornamental grass, Canada wild rye looks right at home in a low-maintenance prairie garden. This fast-growing, short-lived perennial grass has beautiful, curving seed heads that look like cultivated rye spikes. When there’s a breeze, these seedy spikes bob and sway, living up to another common name for this plant: nodding wild rye. Birds love to eat the seeds and rely on the foliage for making nests. When landscaping with this ornamental grass, avoid planting it in areas frequented by dogs or children because the seed heads are somewhat prickly and could cause injury.

Name: Elymus canadensis

Growing Conditions: Full sun and well-drained soil

Size: Up to 5 feet tall

Zones: 3-9

close up of Sorghastrum nutans or indiangrass bloom
Credit: Dean Schoeppner

5. Indian Grass

Another native plant found in tallgrass prairies, Indian grass makes the perfect habitat for ground-nesting birds such as mourning doves and bobwhite quail. Many birds love to eat the seeds in this plant's feathery, light brown plumes. In the landscape, Indian grass adds a bold vertical accent with its upright blue-green foliage, which turns orange-yellow in autumn. Look for the variety, 'Sioux Blue', which sports metallic-blue foliage that shines in natural gardens and prairie plantings. Indian grass is also useful for managing slope erosion.

Name: Sorghastrum nutans

Growing Conditions: Full sun and well-drained soil

Size: Up to 5 feet tall

Zones: 4-9

Hairgrass
Credit: Stephen Cridland

6. Tufted Hairgrass

One of the few ornamental grasses that will grow in a shady garden, tufted hairgrass is a cool-season native species. Game birds and songbirds love to eat the seeds, and in wet areas, this fine-textured grass provides cover to nesting waterfowl. Its short height makes tufted hairgrass a good choice for smaller landscapes and urban gardens. Try planting it in a border with shade-loving perennials such as ferns and hostas.

Name: Deschampsia cespitosa

Growing Conditions: Part shade and moist to wet, well-drained soil

Size: Up to 3 feet tall

Zones: 4-9

Comments (2)

Better Homes & Gardens Member
October 28, 2018
It would be helpful if, in addition to giving growing zones, you would also note where plants are native. Especially when looking at plants to be wildlife food sources, native is best. Thanks!
Better Homes & Gardens Member
January 15, 2019
Wonderful guide to grasses. Could you advise on grasses for part shade or even full shade? BHG Editors dliono3053396285, if you’re looking for grasses and grass-like plants that can grow in shade, you might want to look at Deschampsia cespitosa, aka tufted hair grass (zones 4-9) as seen in the article, Hakonechloa macra, aka Japanese forest grass (zones 5-9), or any number of plants from the genus Carex (sedges). For another grass-like plant that produces purple flowers, you might look at the genus Liriope aka lily turf. Each of these will provide the long-leaf look of full-sun grasses and do well in partly shady to shady conditions. Zones of given species: switchgrass, 4-9 blue fescue, 4-11 little blue stem, 3-9 Canadian wild rye, 3-8 Indian grass, 4-9 tufted hair grass, 4-9