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Landscaping with Ornamental Grasses: 14 Top Picks with Gallery

Are you ready to take your landscaping game to new heights? Ornamental grasses are the secret weapon you need and in this post, you will learn the tips for landscaping with ornamental grasses. With their graceful movements, captivating textures and colors, and low-maintenance charm, these plant superstars will transform your outdoor space into a true oasis of tranquility. Hardy, drought-tolerant, and versatile – ornamental grasses are a must for any designer garden and perfect for xeriscaping. Let’s elevate your garden’s beauty with the best ornamental grasses for landscaping. I’m sure you will enjoy our cured list including tall, small, and colorful ornamental grasses. Enjoy our gallery of front yard and border landscaping ideas with ornamental grasses.

landscaping with ornamental grasses top choices for garden design

Why Choose Landscape with Ornamental Grasses?

Low Maintenance Charm

Let’s be real, who has the time (or energy) for high-maintenance plants? Ornamental grasses are the ultimate low-fuss companions for busy gardeners like us. Once established, they’ll thrive with minimal effort, making them the perfect addition to any low-maintenance landscape design. Say goodbye to constant pruning, watering, and fussing – these grasses are all about keeping things breezy and carefree. So, lazy gardeners, keep reading as you are in the right place!

Versatile Landscape Enhancers

Ornamental grasses are the versatile most valuable players of the plant world. Whether you’re aiming for a contemporary, traditional, or rustic vibe, these grassy beauties will seamlessly blend into your landscape vision. Use them as stunning accent plants, create natural borders and screens, or let them steal the show as the main attraction – the possibilities are endless!

Best Types of Ornamental Grasses for Landscaping

Landscaping with ornamental grasses is an elegant and versatile way to enhance the beauty and texture of your garden. These grasses, with their varied heights, colors, and forms, can transform any outdoor space into a tranquil and visually captivating haven. Whether swaying gently in the breeze or providing a lush ground cover, ornamental grasses offer year-round interest and require minimal maintenance. Perfect for garden borders, pathways, or as standalone focal points, they blend seamlessly with other plants and garden features, creating a harmonious and inviting landscape.

  • Tall Grasses: Perfect for creating dramatic backdrops or privacy screens. Examples include Miscanthus, Pampas Grass, and Switchgrass.
  • Medium Grasses: Ideal for adding texture and color to mixed borders. Examples include Fountain Grass, Feather Reed Grass, and Little Bluestem.
  • Short or Small Grasses: Great for ground cover or edging along pathways and garden beds. Examples include Blue Fescue, Sedge, and Mondo Grass.
  • Clumping Grasses: Form neat, dense mounds that are perfect for accent plants. Examples include Blue Oat Grass and Japanese Forest Grass.
  • Spreading Grasses: These grasses spread via rhizomes or stolons, making them ideal for filling in large areas. Examples include Ribbon Grass and Creeping Red Fescue.

Let’s see the 14 best ornamental grasses for landscape design and explore their features.

Top Picks for Tall Ornamental Grasses

Pampas Grass (Cortaderia selloana)

ornamental pampas grass for landscaping

Imagine towering plumes that wouldn’t look out of place in a Dr. Seuss book – that’s the whimsical allure of Pampas Grass (Cortaderia selloana). This larger-than-life ornamental grass can reach heights of up to 10 feet, making it the perfect choice for creating a focal point or adding a dramatic backdrop to your garden. With its soft, feathery texture and a range of colors from creamy white to pinkish-purple, it’s sure to turn heads wherever you plant Pampas Grass.

Ravenna Grass (Saccharum ravennae)

ravenna grass in a garden

If you’re looking for an ornamental grass that exudes elegance and grace, look no further than Ravenna Grass. Known also by its scientific name, Saccharum ravennae is also known by its formerly name Erianthus ravennae.

Its slender, arching stems adorned with delicate plumes give it a distinctly romantic vibe. Imagine it swaying gently in the breeze, adding a touch of whimsy to your garden. And the best part? It’s a low-maintenance dreamboat that thrives in a variety of soil conditions.

Feather Reed Grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora)

ornamental feather reed grass in a garden

Feather Reed Grass is the quintessential ornamental grass for those who appreciate subtlety and texture. Its slender, upright form and feathery plumes in shades of green, gold, or wheat make it a versatile addition to any landscape design. Use Feather reed grass to create natural borders, accentuate pathways, or let it shine as a stunning stand-alone specimen – this grass is a true chameleon.

Maiden Grass (Miscanthus sinensis)

ornamental maiden grass landscaping

A true giant among ornamental grasses, Miscanthus sinensis, or Maiden Grass, is a showstopper in any landscape. Reaching impressive heights of up to 8 feet, this stately grass commands attention with its graceful, arching form and stunning plumes that emerge in late summer.

As the seasons change, the plumes persist through winter, providing months of interest and movement with every gentle breeze. Whether planted en masse for a bold statement or used as a striking specimen, Maiden Grass adds undeniable drama and texture to sunny garden beds, borders, or naturalized areas. Its ability to thrive in full sun to partial shade conditions makes it a versatile choice for various planting situations.

Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum)

switchgrass in a garden

Panicum virgatum, commonly known as Switchgrass, is a native ornamental grass that brings both beauty and resilience to the landscape. Growing 3-6 feet tall, this upright, vase-shaped grass forms a sturdy clump adorned with airy, open seed heads that sway gracefully in the wind. As autumn approaches, Switchgrass truly shines, with its foliage transforming into a warm kaleidoscope of reds, oranges, and yellows, creating a stunning focal point in the garden. Highly adaptable, Switchgrass thrives in full sun and a variety of soil conditions, making it a low-maintenance choice for meadow plantings, borders, or naturalized areas. Its remarkable fall color and vertical interest make it a valuable addition to any landscape design. Here is where I recommend buying Switchgrass.

Compact Ornamental Grass Varieties

Blue Fescue (Festuca glauca)

ornamental blue fescue landscape

Sometimes, big things come in small packages, and Blue Fescue (Festuca glauca) is the perfect example. This compact grass forms tight, bluish-green mounds that add a pop of color and texture to your garden. Imagine it nestled among your other plants, creating a visually appealing contrast. And the best part? Blue Fescue is drought-tolerant and low-maintenance, making it a perfect choice for those with a busy lifestyle.

Blue Fescue is one of my favorite grasses for xeriscaping to design a drought-tolerant blue and silver garden. I like to landscape with Blue Fescue as an anchor plant. Then, complement it with upright plants like Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) whose lavender-blue flower spikes echo Blue Fescue’s color while adding verticality. Low-growing Catmint (Nepeta x faassenii) is another ideal pairing, with its gray-green foliage forming a carpet dotted with blue flower spikes. If you are more into blooms, I recommend reading our last post about What to Plant with Hydrangeas: Best Companion Plants Guide. Discover how Blue Fescue and Hydrangea create a perfect match for enhancing your full-sun-to-part sun garden’s beauty and charm.

Hakone Grass or Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa macra)

landscape with hakone grass or japanese forest grass in a garden

Bringing a soft, cascading form to the shade garden, Hakonechloa macra, Hakone Grass, or Japanese Forest Grass are indeed the same ornamental grass cultivar. Those different descriptive names refer to this particular type of green-and-yellow striped Japanese grass species, a true gem among ornamental grasses.

This compact grass grows 1-2 feet tall, with slender, arching stems adorned with delicate, green, and yellow-variegated foliage that gently spills over the edges of borders or containers. As the seasons change, the foliage takes on warm reddish-pink tones, providing year-round interest. Japanese Forest Grass thrives in part shade to full shade conditions, making it an excellent choice for brightening up those darker corners of the landscape. Its graceful, flowing habit and low-maintenance nature make it a versatile addition to shade gardens, woodland areas, or even as an understory planting beneath trees.

Dwarf Fountain Grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides)

dwarf fountain grass in a garden

Don’t let the word “dwarf” fool you – this compact grass packs a punch when it comes to visual appeal. Dwarf Fountain Grass forms tight, rounded mounds adorned with airy plumes that sway gracefully in the slightest breeze. Use it as a border plant, in rock gardens, or even as a focal point in your container arrangements – it’s a versatile little gem. Here is where I recommend buying Dwarf Fountain Grass.

Japanese Sedge (Carex morrowii)

ornamental japanese sedge

For those seeking a low-growing, versatile groundcover, Carex morrowii, or Japanese Sedge, is an excellent choice. This semi-evergreen sedge forms dense, grass-like mounds reaching only 6-12 inches tall, making it perfect for use as a weed-suppressing groundcover or in between pavers and stepping stones. Its slender, arching green foliage adds a graceful, fine texture to the landscape, complementing other plants beautifully. Japanese Sedge thrives in part shade to full shade conditions, making it an ideal solution for those challenging shady areas of the garden. Low-maintenance and drought-tolerant once established, this ornamental grass is a reliable option for creating a lush, green carpet in your outdoor spaces.

Ornamental Grasses with Vibrant Hues

Purple Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum)

landscape with purple fountain grass

Adding a vibrant pop of color to any landscape, Pennisetum setaceum, or Purple Fountain Grass, is a true showstopper. This warm-season grass forms graceful, arching mounds of slender, burgundy-purple foliage topped with bottlebrush-like plumes that can reach up to 4 feet tall. As summer transitions to fall, the plumes take on tawny hues, providing multi-season interest. Purple Fountain Grass thrives in full sun and well-drained soil, making it an excellent choice for hot, dry locations or xeriscaped gardens. Its striking form and color make it an ideal accent plant for borders, containers, or mass plantings where its bold presence can be fully appreciated.

Japanese Blood Grass (Imperata cylindrica ‘Rubra’)

ornamental japanese blood grass

For a bold pop of color in the landscape, Japanese Blood Grass (Imperata cylindrica ‘Rubra’) is an excellent choice. This compact ornamental grass forms tight, upright clumps of slender, razor-like blades that take on a striking crimson-red hue throughout the growing season. As summer transitions to fall, the vibrant foliage deepens to a rich burgundy shade, providing a smoldering focal point in borders or mixed beds. Reaching only 1-2 feet tall, Japanese Blood Grass is well-suited for use as a brilliant accent plant or for mass plantings that create a fiery carpet of color. Although its vivid coloring thrives in full sun, this versatile grass can also tolerate partial shade conditions. Low-maintenance and drought-tolerant once established, Imperata cylindrica ‘Rubra’ is an easy-care solution for adding year-round interest and drama to almost any sunny or partially-shaded garden space.

Fireworks Ornamental Grass (Pennisetum orientale)

fireworks ornamental grass in a garden

Aptly named, Fireworks Ornamental Grass (Pennisetum orientale) puts on a dazzling display of color and texture in the landscape. This upright grass forms densely tufted mounds of slender, arching foliage that transforms throughout the seasons. In spring and summer, the foliage emerges in shades of green before taking on vibrant hues of red, purple, and yellow as temperatures cool in fall. Reaching 3-5 feet tall, the grass is topped with bottlebrush plumes that start pinkish-red and mature to tan, adding to the fiery color show. Fireworks grass thrives in full sun locations and makes an excellent focal point for mass planting, where its kaleidoscope of warm colors can be fully appreciated. Low-maintenance and drought-tolerant, this ornamental grass is a reliable choice for adding multi-season interest and bold texture to borders, meadows, or naturalized areas.

Pink Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia capillaries)

ornamental pink muhly grass

For a wispy, cloud-like display, look no further than Muhlenbergia capillaris, or Pink Muhly Grass. This native grass forms a dense, green clump throughout the growing season before bursting into a haze of airy, pink-tinged plumes in late summer and fall. The delicate, waving plumes seem to float above the foliage, creating a soft, ethereal effect in the landscape. Pink Muhly Grass is highly adaptable, thriving in full sun to partial shade and tolerating a range of soil conditions. Its unique texture and color make it a standout choice for meadow plantings, borders, or as a stunning accent in naturalized areas.

Basket Grass (Oplismenus hirtellus)

basket grass in a garden

Oplismenus hirtellus, commonly known as Basket Grass, is a low-growing, mounding ornamental grass that adds texture and interest to shaded areas. Forming dense, cascading mounds up to 12 inches tall, its slender, bright green foliage takes on reddish hues in cooler weather, creating a striking contrast. Basket Grass is well-suited for use as a groundcover, spilling over the edges of borders or containers, or for filling in between stepping stones or pavers. Its ability to thrive in part shade to full shade conditions makes it an excellent choice for brightening up those darker corners of the landscape while providing a lush, weed-suppressing carpet.

Let’s see what ornamental grasses are annuals and perennials and the best options for full-sun and shade gardens.

Summary of Top Annual and Perennial Ornamental Grasses for Landscaping

Most of the grasses listed are perennials, meaning they will come back year after year when planted in the appropriate growing zones and conditions. The few exceptions are some annual or tender perennial types like the Pennisetum species (Purple Fountain Grass, Fireworks Ornamental Grass) which may need to be replanted each year in colder climates. But the majority can be treated as long-lived, low-maintenance perennial plantings.

The following chart summarizes some of the best ornamental grasses for landscaping, including where to best utilize each ornamental grass, based on its height, growth habit, and unique features. That’s key to visualizing how these grasses can be incorporated into different areas of their landscape design.

Grass TypeHeight RangeColors/FeaturesSuggested UseLighting Requirements
Pampas Grass (Cortaderia selloana)6-10 ft (1.8-3 m)Creamy white to pinkish-purple. Perennial grass.Accent plant, backdropFull sun
Ravenna Grass (Saccharum ravennae)6-8 ft (1.8-2.4 m)Green, turns golden in fall. Perennial grass.Privacy screen, mass plantingFull sun
Feather Reed Grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora)4-6 ft (1.2-1.8 m)Green, wheat-colored plumes. Perennial grass.Borders, accent plantFull sun
Maiden Grass (Miscanthus sinensis)Up to 8 ft (2.4 m)Known for plumes. Perennial grass.Specimen plant, mass plantingFull sun to part shade
Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum)3-6 ft (0.9-1.8 m)Striking fall color. Perennial grass.Meadow planting, bordersFull sun
Blue Fescue (Festuca glauca)8-12 in (20-30 cm)Bluish-green mounds, ideal for borders. Perennial grass.Edging, rock gardensFull sun
Japanese Forest Grass or Hakone Grass (Hakonechloa macra)1-2 ft (30-60 cm)Green, gold highlights, Cascading green/yellow foliage. Perennial grass.Shade gardens, borders, containersPart shade to full shade
Dwarf Fountain Grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’)2-3 ft (60-90 cm)Green foliage, tan plumesBorders, mass plantingFull sun
Japanese Sedge (Carex morrowii)Low-growingPerfect for ground cover. Perennial grass.Ground cover, between paversPart shade to full shade
Purple Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum)2-4 ft (60-120 cm)Reddish-purple foliage, tan plumes. Known for purple plumesAccent plant, containersFull sun
Japanese Blood Grass (Imperata cylindrica ‘Rubra’)1-2 ft (30-60 cm)Crimson-red foliage. Perennial grass.Borders, accent plantFull sun to part shade
Fireworks Ornamental Grass (Pennisetum orientale)3-5 ft (90-150 cm)Red, purple, green, goldFocal point, mass plantingFull sun
Pink Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris)2-3 ft (60-90 cm)Airy pink flowers. Perennial grass.Borders, meadow plantingFull sun to part shade
Basket Grass (Oplismenus hirtellus)6-12 in (15-30 cm)Mounding, green/red foliageGroundcover, bordersPart shade to full shade

Save this pin for later and return, easily, to the previous chart.

choosing the best ornamental grasses for garden design

Landscaping with Ornamental Grasses (Gallery)

border landscaping with ornamental grasses, succulent plants and lavender
Stunning front yard border landscaping with ornamental grasses (Japanese sedge, Ravenna grass, and dwarf fountain grass), succulent plants (Echeveria secunda), and Lavender.
landscaping with ornamental grasses shade garden
landscaping with pampas grass and pink muhly grass
Combination of two lines of ornamental grasses: Pampas grass in the back and Pink Muhly grass in the front.
landscape with perennial ornamental grasses
landscaping with ornamental grasses
A low-maintenance garden design with drought-tolerant ornamental grasses.
border landscaping with ornamental grass
Mulch, perennials, and ornamental grass for an easy-to-maintain front garden design
landscaping with ornamental grass
concrete path and ornamental purple fountain grass
Concrete path and ornamental purple fountain grass
xeriscape with feather reed grass and rocks
Xeriscape with Feather reed grass
border landscape with ornamental grass
reducing lawn surface with river rocks and ornamental grass
Combination of river rocks, dwarf evergreen bushes, and ornamental grasses for a client who wants to reduce the lawn surface of the front yard.

Ornamental Grass Care Tips

Planting and Spacing

While ornamental grasses are generally low-maintenance, they still need a little tender loving care when it comes to planting and spacing. Most varieties prefer well-draining soil and plenty of sunlight (though some can tolerate partial shade). When it comes to spacing, give them room to breathe – overcrowding can lead to fungal issues and stunted growth. A general rule of thumb is to space them about 2-3 feet apart, but always check the specific requirements for your chosen grasses.

Water and Fertilizer Needs

One of the beauties of ornamental grasses is their ability to thrive with minimal water once established. These grasses are perfect for xeriscaping and truly a way to save water in the garden. However, during the first growing season, be sure to keep the soil consistently moist (but not waterlogged) to encourage strong root development. As for fertilizer, a light application of slow-release fertilizer in early spring is usually sufficient for most varieties.

Pruning and Maintenance

While ornamental grasses are generally low-maintenance, a little pruning goes a long way in keeping them looking their best. In late winter or early spring, simply trim back the previous year’s growth to about 6-8 inches from the ground. This will encourage fresh, new growth and keep your grasses looking tidy and vibrant. Additionally, you may need to divide larger clumps every 3-4 years to prevent overcrowding and rejuvenate their growth.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are ornamental grasses invasive?

While some ornamental grasses can spread aggressively, most well-behaved varieties are not considered invasive. However, it’s always a good idea to research the specific variety you’re planting and take precautions to prevent unwanted spreading, such as dividing clumps regularly or planting in contained areas.

How long do ornamental grasses live?

The lifespan of ornamental grasses can vary, but many are considered long-lived perennials. With proper care and division every few years, many varieties can thrive for 5-10 years or more.

Can ornamental grasses grow in shade?

Most ornamental grasses prefer full sun to partial shade for optimal growth and performance. However, some varieties like Japanese Forest Grass and Hakone Grass can tolerate shadier conditions.

Do ornamental grasses need full sun?

While some varieties can tolerate partial shade, most ornamental grasses perform best in full sun conditions (at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day). Full sun exposure helps promote their vibrant colors, sturdy growth, and overall health.

When is the best time to plant ornamental grasses?

The ideal time to plant ornamental grasses is in late spring or early fall, when the soil is warm and the plants have time to establish their root systems before extreme temperatures set in.

Final Thoughts about Landscaping with Ornamental Grasses

There you have it, fellow green thumbs – a comprehensive guide to elevating your garden’s beauty with the versatile and low-maintenance charm of ornamental grasses. From towering giants to compact cuties, and vibrant hues to subtle textures, there’s an ornamental grass out there to suit every taste and landscape vision.

So, what are you waiting for? Get out there, roll up your sleeves, and start creating your own personal oasis with these grassy superstars. Trust us, your garden (and your neighbors) will thank you for it.

the best 14 ornamental grasses for landscaping

About Julia Morgan

Julia Morgan is an agronomist and a master gardener. In her previous roles, Julia was an advisor promoting large-scale food growing in urbanized areas, introducing the concept of chemical-free produce. She is an expert in putting her hands in the soil, developing organic foods, and improving production processes for decades. Julia is a natural teacher and encourages every person in her way to grow their own food. She split her days between writing and reviewing for The Garden Style Website and offering assessments to cure edible land. Julia enjoys connecting with The Garden Style Community.

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