15 Beautiful Ways to Use Ornamental Grasses in Your Landscape

brick landscape garden
Photo: John Granen

Whether you use them as screens, accents, or focal points, ornamental grasses are an easy way to add graceful texture and year-round color to your landscape. Most of them are very drought- and heat-tolerant, keeping their good looks no matter the weather. Plus, they aren't often bothered by pests and diseases, and deer tend to leave them alone. Here's how to make the most of these tough, versatile perennial plants in your yard.

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Add Privacy

Miscanthus ornamental grass
John Reed Forsman

Tall grasses in a large grouping can be a perfect solution for blocking an unpleasant view or screening an area of your yard from view of passersby or the neighbors. For best effect, choose taller species such as big bluestem, maiden grass (shown here), and moor grass, all of which can reach about 6 feet tall when in bloom.

Test Garden Tip: Keep in mind that you'll cut back ornamental grasses close to the ground in early spring, so there will be a month or two while your grasses are growing when you won't have a screen.

02 of 15

Create Colorful Containers

Fiber Opticgrass Isolepis cernua
Richard Felber

With their variety of shapes, colors, and sizes, many smaller grasses are perfect for container gardens. Here, for example, fiber optic grass in simple terra-cotta containers decorates a plain stone wall. The effect is maximized by the contrasting texture provided by the thick, succulent leaves of gray-blue echeveria.

Test Garden Tip: To create the most dramatic effect with grasses, look for the unexpected. Try contrasting colors (such as golden grass in a blue pot), textures, or shapes and sizes.

03 of 15

Add Texture to Beds and Borders

Perennial Border
Laurie Black

Ornamental grasses add unique texture to the landscape. Soft, mounding grasses such as fountaingrass balance plants that have a bolder texture, for example. More upright grasses, such as switchgrass, make a perfect textural contrast to more mounded plants.

Test Garden Tip: Maximize the effect by planting several different grasses in the same landscape. Here, fountaingrass and a few varieties of maiden grass punctuate a garden filled with black-eyed Susan, lavender, and hydrangea.

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Soften Hardscaping

Swimming Pool grass flowers
Hedrich Blessing

Whether it's walls, paving, or other hardscapes, ornamental grasses can soften their look and keep them from feeling cold and uninviting. Here, for example, a mass of maiden grass softens the concrete edge of a swimming pool.

Test Garden Tip: Some types of grasses like maiden grass have become invasive in specific areas of the country. Always check if a plant is a problem in your area before adding it to your yard, and if it is, see if there are sterile varieties of it that don't spread by seeds.

05 of 15

Dress Up Decks and Patios

Potted Grasses terrace plants
Matthew Benson

Don't limit ornamental grasses to beds and borders in your landscape. Grow them in containers to add drama to decks and patios. Here, purple fountaingrass adds elegant texture to a rooftop garden.

Test Garden Tip: Annual or tender grasses, such as purple fountaingrass, are especially good choices for growing in containers because you'll need to replace them again in spring anyway so you don't need to worry about trying to overwinter them in a pot.

06 of 15

Plant a Knot Garden

Knot Garden
Erica George

Herbs and tidy evergreens planted as low hedges most commonly comprise geometric knot gardens. But weaving in smaller grasses can help both the grass and the hedge plants stand out more. Here, a golden sedge (which technically isn't a grass, but has a similar look) is a stunning contrast to dark green boxwood.

Test Garden Tip: Tight, mounding grasses work best in knot gardens. Avoid grasses that are too loose and open; they can make the knot garden feel messy.

07 of 15

Add a Garden Accent

daisy bright perennial border
Peter Krumhardt

Grasses of all shapes and sizes make excellent accent plants for beds and borders. Here, a clump of fountaingrass subtly complements bold black-eyed Susans, canna, coleus, and petunia along a deck.

Test Garden Tip: Use the same grass in several different parts of your yard to help tie your garden together and give your landscape a cohesive look.

08 of 15

Create Edging

brick landscape garden
John Granen

Edge your beds and borders with a tidy line of neat grasses. Small selections, such as the blue fescue shown here, are best for this.

Test Garden Tip: Edging with grasses works best if you plant them a little closer together than you normally would so the grasses grow together in one line.

09 of 15

Create End-of-the-Season Interest

Purple miscanthus Perennials
Peter Krumhardt

Grasses really shine at the end of the season when most annuals and perennials look worn out. Many grasses offer twice the interest: They have beautiful seed heads and stunning fall color. Switchgrass, big bluestem, and little bluestem are some of the best grasses for fall leaf color.

Test Garden Tip: To ensure your grasses will come back after the winter, choose species that are hardy in your region.

10 of 15

Set Off Garden Art

Stipa Sculptures tenuissima
Jerry Pavia

Your favorite ornamental grasses can be the perfect complement to sculptures and other garden art. Here, feathergrass creates an intriguing foil to broken pottery sculptures and lamb's ears. The effect is a contemporary design that will look gorgeous all year long.

Test Garden Tip: Play with different plant and art combinations and keep trying new things until you find that magical composition you never get tired of admiring.

11 of 15

Attract Wildlife

bird perched on branch in garden
David Speer

Grasses can be great for attracting wildlife, especially birds. They'll use the leaf blades for making nests, find shelter in larger grasses, and many species will eat the seeds.

Test Garden Tip: If you wish to attract songbirds, it's best to select grasses native to your region.

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Garnish Your Vegetable Garden

Feather Reedgrass Eggplant
Susan Gilmore

Besides looking beautiful in your landscape, ornamental grasses also can add a dash of interest to your vegetable garden. Here, the buff plumes of feather reedgrass contrast nicely with the rich purples of a group of eggplants.

Test Garden Tip: Clump-forming grasses, such as feather reedgrass or blue fescue, are the best choices for vegetable gardens. Avoid running grasses such as ribbongrass that can become weedy as they spread.

13 of 15

Create Formal Flair

container garden grass flowers
Andrew Drake

Many grasses such as feather reedgrass or the big bluestem shown here have a distinctly upright form that's perfect for enhancing a formal theme. Plant them in pairs to maximize the effect.

Test Garden Tip: One of the easiest ways to create a formal style is to plant in symmetrical patterns.

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Cover Your Ground

easy landscaping idea plants texture
Jon Jensen

Low-growing or mid-size grasses are top-notch groundcovers. They'll help smother weeds while adding an interesting texture in your landscape.

Test Garden Tip: Mounding grasses often make better groundcovers because of their dense habit.

15 of 15

Grow a Pretty Prairie

Big Bluestem Andropogon gerardii
Jerry Pavia

Create a meadow or prairie effect with grasses. These extra-tough plants provide lots of natural beauty with minimal maintenance. They're lower care than a lawn, and more environmentally friendly.

Test Garden Tip: For best success with a meadow or prairie garden, select grasses that are native to your region.

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