21 of the Best Ornamental Grasses to Add Unbeatable Texture to Your Garden

Fiber Opticgrass Isolepis cernua
Photo: Richard Felber

Wispy ornamental grasses are versatile plants in any landscape that can provide four seasons of interest. These are some of the best varieties to try in your yard; you'll especially love how they look moving gracefully in a breeze.

01 of 21

Feather Reed Grass

Feather Reed grass Calamagrostis 'Karl Foerster'
Bryan E. McCay

The most popular ornamental grass, feather reed grass 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

Buy It: Avalanche Feather Reed Grass ($20, The Home Depot)

02 of 21

Fountain Grass

Fountaingrass Pennisetum alopecuroides
Marty Baldwin

A beautiful, mounding plant, fountain grass offers a graceful shape, plus 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

Buy It: Dwarf Ornamental Fountain Grass ($35, Lowe's)

03 of 21

Little Bluestem

Little Bluestem Schizachyrium scoparium
John Reed Forsman

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

Buy It: Little Blue Stem Grass (from $9, Etsy)

04 of 21

Switch Grass

Switchgrass Panicum virgatum
Peter Krumhardt

A North American prairie native, switch grass 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

Buy It: Switchgrass ($3, Etsy)

05 of 21

Blue Oat Grass

Blue Oatgrass Helictotrichon sempervirens
Charles Mann

It's tough to beat blue oat grass for a low-care plant with steel-blue color. It also has a tidy 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

Buy It: Blue Oat Grass ($30, The Home Depot)

06 of 21

Purple Millet

Purple Millet Pennisetum glaucum
Peter Krumhardt

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

Buy It: Purple Majesty Millet Seeds

07 of 21

Cord Grass

Cord grass Spartina pectinata
Stephen Cridland

An underutilized perennial, cord grass is a spreading prairie grass that thrives in moist or wet soils. 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

Buy It: Cord Grass Seeds ($3, Walmart)

08 of 21

Japanese Forest Grass

Japanese Forest grass Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola'
Andre Baranowski

A good low-growing species, Japanese forest grass has a nearly-perfect mounding habit. Variegated selections (such as 'Aureola' or 'All Gold') have 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

Buy It: Gold Japanese Forest Grass ($30, The Home Depot)

09 of 21

Maiden Grass

Maiden grass Miscanthus sinensis
John Reed Forsman

One of the most common grasses, maiden grass 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

Buy It: Maiden Grass ($30, The Home Depot)

10 of 21

Fiber Optic Grass

Fiber Opticgrass Isolepis cernua
Richard Felber

An unusual tender perennial often grown as an annual, fiber optic grass has a fine texture and low, mounding habit perfect for container gardens. Since it stays compact, it's also a good choice for gardening in small spaces.

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)

Buy It: Fiber Optic Grass ($14, The Home Depot)

11 of 21

Ravenna Grass

Ravenna grass Saccharum ravennae
Richard Felber

A massive, fast-growing perennial, ravenna grass 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

Buy It: Ravenna Saccharum Plant ($14, GrowJoy)

12 of 21

Purple Fountain Grass

purple fountain grass in garden
Andreas Trauttmansdorff

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)

Buy It: Purple Fountain Grass

13 of 21

Northern Sea Oats

Northern Sea Oats Chasmanthium latifolium
John Reed Forsman

This ornamental grass is loved for its interesting seed heads, which hang off the stems and look like wind chimes.

Test Garden Tip: Northern sea oats is a fast spreader, so plant in a container or other spot that will keep it in bounds.

Name: Chasmanthium latifolium

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

Size: To 3 feet tall

Zones: 5-9

Buy It: Northern Sea Oats ($3, Etsy)

14 of 21

Zebra Grass

Zebra grass Miscanthus sinensis 'Strictus'
Matthew Benson

It's easy to see how zebra grass got its name: Each leaf blade features a series of bright yellow bands. The plant really stands out in the landscape! Zebra grass 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

Buy It: Little Zebra Grass ($30, The Home Depot)

15 of 21

Purple Moor Grass

Purple Moor grass Molinia caerulea
Mike Jensen

Etsy 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

Buy It: Purple Moor Grass ($6, Etsy)

16 of 21

Hair Grass

Hairgrass
Stephen Cridland

Depending on the climate, hair grass is an evergreen 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

Buy It: Dwarf Hairgrass ($8, Walmart)

17 of 21

Blue Fescue

Blue Fescue Festuca glauca
Martin Tessler

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

Buy It: Elijah Blue Fescue Grass ($30, The Home Depot)

18 of 21

Dwarf Pampas Grass

Dwarf Pampas grass Cortaderia selloana 'Pumila'
Stephen Cridland

Growing just 4-5 feet tall, dwarf pampas grass 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 pampas grass, 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 and well-drained soil

Size: 5 feet tall

Zones: 6-10

Buy It: White Pampas Grass ($60, Etsy)

19 of 21

Liriope

Liriope Liriope spicata
Matthew Benson

Also called monkey grass or lilyturf, liriope is prized for its pretty mounding, grasslike foliage. An excellent groundcover, liriope thrives in sun or shade and helps control 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. Liriope is not a true grass but a member of the lily family.

Name: Liriope spicata

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

Size: To 9-15 inches tall

Zones: 5-9

Buy It: Variegated Liriope Plant ($10, The Home Depot)

20 of 21

Big Bluestem

Big Bluestem Andropogon gerardii
Ian Adams

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: Full sun and well-drained soil

Size: 4-8 feet tall

Zones: 4-9

Buy It: Big Bluestem Native Grass Seeds ($15, Walmart)

21 of 21

Mexican Feather Grass

Mexican Feathergrass
Jay Wilde

Even the slightest breeze will cause the delicate flower stalks and thin leaves of Mexican feather grass 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 feather grass is a good choice for erosion control.

Name: Nassella tenuissima

Growing Conditions: Full sun and well-drained soil

Size: To 3 feet tall

Zones: 6-10

Buy It: Mexican Feather Grass ($13, The Home Depot)

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