How to Brighten Up Your Yard with Ornamental Grass

Ornamental grass can add amazing color and movement to your yard. Some ornamental grasses have flowers and others have colorful leaves or tassel’s that wave in the breeze. You can choose from grass that is steel blue, silver, white, yellow, orange, bright red and chartreuse in color.

Reasons to Plant Ornamental Grass

There is an ornamental grass for any type of landscape or garden including wilderness, Japanese, rock, Xeriscape, water, container or just in your yard wherever you like. The great thing about many types of ornamental grasses is that they do not require a lot of maintenance and do well in normal to poor soil. Pests and bugs usually do not bother these grasses. They can add bright late season colors well into fall and will stand out in your yard on the grayest of winter days. You can use the fresh or dried grass as decorations.

How to Select Ornamental Grass for Your Yard

There is a large variety among ornamental grasses species, know how big they will get. Looking at a tiny plant at the nursery is deceiving. Realize that many of these can grow over 7 feet high including the blooms. Most ornamental grasses take at least 3 or 4 hours of full sun, which means many will do great in partial shade areas. Some need a lot of water and others are great for low-water Xeriscape yards. There are annual and perennial grasses. In the colder zones, some of the perennial grasses might be annual grasses since they could die out during a severe winter.

Invasive Grasses

Some ornamental grasses are classified as or can become invasive grasses in certain areas. If you plant one of the more prolific types of grass, you will need to be careful it doesn’t spread everywhere. Your local extension office or nursery should be able to help pick out the right grass.

Planting and Maintaining Ornamental Grass


Make sure you know how wide and tall the ornamental grass is going to be so you can plan the surrounding area accordingly. After several years, some species can be as large as a bush. Leave space between the grasses and other plants, the breeze blowing through some grasses make a pleasant sound and can show off the colorful leaves. Plant ornamental grass like you would other plants. Put compost in the hole with water and then plant the grass.

Most types of ornamental grass don’t like to sit in water. So the area you plant the grass should be a well drained area with no standing water. Water the grass normally during dry periods or the ornamental grass could go dormant, much like lawn grass. 

Putting mulch around the base of the grass is a good idea in both winter and summer especially in areas with cold and severe winters and dry summers. Too much nitrogen in the fertilizer can cause the plants to droop or fall over. A 10-10-10 slow release fertilizer like Osmocote in the spring can last all summer long.

Trim the grass back to about 6 inches in the early spring before new growth starts. The untrimmed plants will look pretty in your yard all winter and help protect the ornamental grass from the cold. Wear gloves when trimming the leaves since some ornamental grasses have sharp edges to their leaves.

Popular Types of Ornamental Grass

Photo by Danial Dussart

Maiden grasses (Miscanthus sinensis) native to China are the most common types of ornamental grasses. This type of grass grows in a clump where the leaves grow upwards and then cascade out giving a fountain appearance with the blooms growing straight above. 

The most popular maiden grasses are the variegated types like Morning Light, Little Zebra, Japanese silver grass, Yaku Jima and the beautiful Miscanthus sinensis 'Malepartus' en fleurs. This grass can grow in zones 5 through 9, need moist soil, about 6 hours of sunlight and are practically immune to pests and disease. The foliage can grow to 4 feet tall with the blooms another 4 feet.

Photo by Daryl Mitchell
Feather Reed (Calamagrostis x acutiflora) is a non-invasive grass that grows in zones 3-9, require moist soil and can thrive in shaded areas to full sun. The foliage grows as high as 3 to 4 feet and the spikes get another 4 feet above that. 

They bloom in early to mid-summer with colors that can range from pink/reddish or pink/purple stalks turning to golden and then a buff or tan-beige color in the fall. These grasses wave in the slightest breeze. 

Favorite types of this ornamental grass are the “Karl Foerster” and “Brachytricha” varieties. The Karl Foerster won the Perennial Plant of the Year in 2001. Many gardeners grow this grass in their zone 2 gardens in Canada and Southern Alaska.

Photo by James K. Lindsey

Tufted hair grass (Deschampsia cespitosa) is a semi-evergreen that grows to 32 inches with bronze colored blooms 40 inches above the plant for an impressive display of color. Other Deschampsia varieties have blooms in silver, gold and purple.


Photo by Matt Lavine

Switch grass (Panicum virgatum) is a North American native and grows as tall as 4 feet with the blooms 4 feet higher in zones 3-11 with yellow/green to chartreuse leaves and deep red flowering spikes. Switch grass like Ruby Ribbons has dark green foliage that turns burgundy and flowers that bloom ruby red in summer. There are many different types and colors of switch grass.

Photo by Michelle Ress
Fountain Grass (Pennisetum) with numerous varieties grows in zones 5-9. Look for the different varieties of pennisetum with all the different colored blooms, like Purple Millet (Pennisetum glaucum) or Tall Tails with green foliage to 3 feet and beautiful white flowers growing to 5 feet.

Photo by Peter Stevens
Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra) is a low and wide growing grass and is green with bright white stripes. This grass can brighten up corners and borders of a yard.

Northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium), tufted hair grass and Korean feather reed grass do well in all types of light. They can grow to about 3 feet and will bloom from June through September turning to a bronze that will last all winter. Northern sea oats can become invasive because of their seeds.

Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), a native of North America grows to 2 feet tall with green leaves that change to purple, red and orange into the winter. Grow several clumps of this grass together for a beautiful display of colors. It will grow in zones 3-9.

Purple moor grass (Molinia caerulea) grows in zones 4-9 to 2 feet tall with blooms that turn pale yellow to bright gold and grows fine in partial shade.

Other ornamental grasses to look for include but certainly not limited to, Autum Moor (Sesleria autumnalis), Zebra grass (Miscanthus sinensis 'Strictus'), blue oatgrass (Helictotrichon sempervirens), cordgrass (Spartina pectinata) and blue fescue (Festuca glauca) for a poweder blue ground cover.

© 2010 Sam Montana

1 comment:

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