The Ultimate Guide to Ornamental Grasses: Types, Care, and Design Ideas

Ornamental grasses
Ornamental grasses

Ornamental grasses are plants that are very similar to grass and are often grown in home landscapes due to them being hardy, easy to take care of, is available in a multitude of variations, and having dramatic appearances.

The term ornamental grass refers to normal garden grass, as well as plants that have a grass-like appearance. An example of ornamental grass is a sedge, and others are used in a similar fashion.

What are Ornamental Grasses?

The majority of ornamental grasses are perennials, meaning that they tend to live for two or more years. Other annual grasses only live for one growing season due to their natural growing habitat or not being hardy enough to survive in our climate.

Grasses can have either clumping or spreading natural growth in habitats. Grasses that have a spreading natural growth habitat tend to rapidly expand by their aboveground or underground stems. One should be careful when planting grasses of the spreading variety as they can quickly overtake an entire area. Clumping grasses, on the other hand, do as the name suggests and bloom in clumps that gradually increase in size. The size of the flora depends on its conditions, with the right conditions producing variants that are several feet tall.

It is also important to know that most grasses planted in the South are classified as either cool or warm flora. Cool-season grasses start growing in either winter or fall and tend to bloom in either spring or the early weeks of summer, requiring low levels of water. During the summer heat, these plants either worsen in appearance and size or go dormant. The majority of Southern ornamental grasses prefer the warm season and bloom in it. These grasses grow rapidly in spring and summer while blooming in the late fall or winter. They become dormant during the winter and once again shrink in size.

Ornamental Features

The reason why many people choose to incorporate ornamental grasses into their gardens is due to their flashy flower heads that range in their shade and size. The flowers come in a variety of colors, textures, and sizes. The flower and seed heads last for weeks and sometimes even months, with many varieties even providing a source of interest throughout the cold winter months.

The plants’ foliage is the source of additional interest in the finely textured leaf blades. These leaf blades often stand out due to their arching upright form and leaf color that is of a wide variety. Many of the grasses change to a good warm color in the fall and have a straw-like hue in the winter.

Ornamental grasses also provide a lovely aesthetic as they sway about in the wind. As they sway, they also produce rustling sounds from the movement. Due to their rapid growth and constantly changing appearance, they remain a source of interest throughout the year, reaching a phenomenal size reaching several feet tall.

These grasses add a bit of beauty to any garden they are added to. For this reason, they are added to gardens all over the United States. The fact that they are so easy to grow and add such a wonderful view to any garden makes them a fan favorite. Knowing how to grow them properly only requires that you use the right soil type for whatever grass you choose to cultivate, whether it’s fountain grass or feather reed grasses.

How to Grow the Various Grasses

Before you plant any ornamental grass, you must be aware of how tall the grass grows as well as its spread. In doing so, you can properly plan where you want them to be planted and can ensure that they are not crowded. These types of grass generally grow to a height between 1 and 6 feet tall, having a spread of 3 feet. Growing to these sizes means that they need quite a bit of space to grow. You should plant each seed or plant about 3 feet away from each other in different zones to allow space for them to grow without infringing upon one another. This allows them to reach a larger size that is several feet tall.

The plants can grow in either full sun or part shade conditions. Plants that grow in full sun tend to be more vibrant than those who grow in part shade; however, even if the plant is in part shade, it grows regardless. Full sun variations often have more bright colors such as blue, green, and red, whereas part shade options are often white or tan in shade.

When you choose to grow ornamental grass, you consider purchasing a transplant from your local garden center or even a division from your friend’s garden. After acquiring the transplant, you should plant the grass in either full sun or part shade in early spring or fall for the best flower heads. The soil that you choose should be amended with compost and well-drained to create the best growing conditions for the flora. The soil is a key component for the growing conditions, with the right soil allowing the grasses to grow to several feet tall.

After planting the grass, you should keep it well watered to keep the soil in good condition. Once the grass has established itself and finished growing, it tends to become drought tolerant. Being drought tolerant means that the plant can survive for long periods of time without water. Applying a layer of compost to the soil every spring is a great way to encourage their growth. You should grow the plants in moist soil for the best conditions; however, the soil should not be too wet. Moist soil is only slightly damp, and adding too much water to the soil can result in some problems for the grasses. Full sun and moist soil provide the best growing conditions for grass.

Keeping the grasses spaced out and in different zones allows for the plants to grow more efficiently. Ornamental grasses tend to drop seed heads by themselves; this means that it is always a good idea to place them in zones as they can quickly take over these zones. In doing so, you can also allocate different zones to different plants. By doing this, you can have an assortment of colors and grasses in your garden. You can allocate zones for flora that reach up to 6 feet tall and other zones for plants that only sprout up to 3 feet tall so that the taller plants do not steal the show.

Allocating zones to the plants is also the best way to have grasses that thrive throughout the year. In doing so, you can have flowers that bloom in the late summer, late spring, fall, and winter. Having multiple zones means that no matter the season, you can have the sight of the beautiful foliage to brighten up the landscape.

Different Ornamental Grasses

With so many variations of the plants available, there is a menu with so many options for you to choose from. Whether you are looking for a grass with vibrant leaves that have a deep color or for more plain foliage, there is an option for you. Choosing the right grass for your landscape can be a pretty daunting process; luckily, we have made a list of the most popular ornamental grasses to make your selection process that little bit easier.

Feather Reed Grass

Feather reed grass tends to reach a height between 5 and 6 feet tall. The grass produces purple flower heads that change to a tan color as the plant becomes dormant. It grows in dense clumps, usually about 3 feet in diameter. Although the flower heads are generally purple, they can sometimes be pink or even a mixture between both pink and purple. The feather grass can be planted in either the spring or fall and has no problem spreading. It is named after a feather due to its appearance.

Fountain Grass

The leaves of the fountain grass plant cascade, giving it the same effect as a fountain. Fountain grass grows in clumps, meaning that it is not particularly invasive in the way it spreads. It generally blooms in the late summer and continues throughout the fall. The flowers that bloom from it tend to be either pink, purple, or tan in color. They are native to Australia and Asia; however, given the right conditions, they can flourish anywhere. In the fall and winter, owners of the grass are treated with spectacular foliage displays.

Purple Fountain Grass

Purple fountain grass is probably one of the most popular ornamental grasses. The foliage takes on a purple or burgundy tone with fuzzy purple blooms. They are an excellent statement piece to add to any landscape. The plant is generally very easy to maintain and grows well in a variety of conditions. They work well as stand-alone plants or even being grouped with others in designated zones. The plant does not thrive in cold conditions, and the likelihood of any return in zones 5 is highly unlikely. It is hardy only in zones 9 and warmer climates.

The scientific name for this type of grass is Pennisetum setaceum. Pennisetum setaceum is a term used to refer to any grass that is of the fountain variety.

Pampas Grass

Even if you do not know what pampas grass is, you are most likely familiar with its well-known grass-like foliage and white feathered plumes. It is an attractive grass that is extremely popular in a variety of landscapes. Before you choose to add this grass to your home, it is important to note that it is extremely invasive. It grows very quickly and tends to reach a height and width between 5 and 10 feet tall, making it pretty tall and large in size. The grass is most suited in zones 9 -11 but can also be grown in zones 5-6. It is not suited for cold conditions and struggles to thrive in them. It must be said that the white hue of the grass is extremely beautiful, and some variations of pampas grasses are even pink.

Whit Pampas Grass

Cortaderia selloana is often used to add some white and natural hues to an environment. The flora does like water and, due to this, requires wet soil conditions to grow best.

Mondo Grass

This type of grass is often referred to as monkey grass. It is an evergreen perennial grass and is a great groundcover option with it being green. They are known to thrive in any soil type and in either full sun or part shade. It is extremely easy to maintain and is also slow-growing, meaning that you can effortlessly control how much it grows.

It is crucial that this grass is planted in moist soil as it struggles without adequate moisture. It is also not very tall, usually only growing up to a few inches in height. They bloom to be only a few feet tall, not having an overwhelming size. Their green leaves and foliage expand outward, making them a great option for a backyard. In the backyard, they can cover ground that is bare. The green leaves are also a great way to add some character to your backyard.

Blue Fescue

This type of grass is characterized by its slender and blue blades. The tidy evergreen is extremely tolerant and can thrive in a variety of conditions. It requires little to no maintenance to bloom successfully. It grows best when planted in an area with full sun and moist soil.

It is most suitable to be planted in zones 5-9 but prefers areas that do not undergo extreme heat as that can cause it to die back. It is known to be drought-tolerant and can survive with not much water. The blue tone of the grass and its leaves really make any landscape feel much cooler and relaxed. Adding a bit of blue to your garden is an excellent way to make it feel like a much more chilled environment.

The scientific name for this variation is Festuca glauca. It is often chosen to add a blue or green feel to an environment. It likes low levels of water and grows well in conditions with both low water and low light levels. The leaves and foliage of the plant have a blue shade that are not particularly large in size. They do not bloom to be several feet tall and are rather cultivated for the beautiful shades of blue and green they offer.

Muhly Grass

This grass provides a bit of flair to any landscape it is added to. The grass is straightforward to cultivate and does not require much care. It is averagely tall and usually reaches a size of about 3 feet tall. The grass is native to Florida and other eastern parts of the United States. The native grass is well-known for its pink and purple seed heads that hover above the foliage. Its foliage is spectacular and can even adopt some green shades. The grass is known to be drought-tolerant and also grows in a white variation. It grows best in a variety of zones; however, growing of the grass is best between zones 5 and 9, where it reaches its optimum size.

Although it is not several feet tall, it works well in any area and is not too overwhelming. The leaves and foliage of the growing flora are beautiful and, if well-maintained, can be quite a sight. Growing this variation is also relatively easy.

Panicum Virgatum

The grass is more commonly known as switchgrass. It is native to North America, meaning that it is especially easy to cultivate in the climate. It tends to reach a size between 3 feet and 6 feet tall. It usually has a spread size of about 3 feet, so it does not take up too much space with its size. They thrive best in zones 5 to 9 and, as a result, are best for the late summer and bloom in the fall and cold seasons. They also can flourish in either full sun or part shade. They are also great at withstanding drought and add a beautiful shade to any garden.

The flowers and foliage of these grasses tend to have a pink or red shade to them. These colors are a welcome addition to any landscape, especially with the deep red making any environment feel much warmer. The panicum virgatum is an excellent option for anyone looking for native grass with beautiful flower plumes. The grasses are also able to thrive in both wet soil as well as dry soil.

Growing the variation is pretty simple, with the flora growing several feet tall. Its foliage also provides some shade should you need it.

Little Bluestem

The little bluestem is a bunchgrass that has finely textured leaves. It does not bloom very tall, reaching a height between 2-3 feet tall. Growing to an average height means that it is much easier to handle than variations that reach a size of 6-10 feet tall. The stems and foliage of the flora have a blue or green shade to them in the spring and late summer. In the fall, they turn to a warm red tone with hints of white in it. Due to them being either blue or green in the summer and spring season, they add a wonderful burst of colors to the landscape. They are native to the woodlands and thrive in zones 5-9. They do not like water too much and flourish in dry environments as opposed to moist conditions with either full sun or part shade.

This variation does not tend t be several feet tall, as the name suggests. However, growing it is relatively easy as it does not need much. Due to its small nature and not needing to bloom to be several feet tall, it does not need much attention. As such, growing them is easy, and they bloom well.

Growing Conditions

In order to have your grasses reach heights of several feet tall, it is imperative that you are aware of when and how to cultivate them. Some variations require full sun, whereas others require only part shade to thrive. Full sun and moist soil are the ideal conditions for the majority of the grasses; however, there are some exceptions who prefer part shade and dry conditions. There are also different zones that you should cultivate the flora in. Zones 5-9 are the most popular. Zones 5-9 are the most popular due to them being the zones in which the majority of grasses prefer to thrive in.

Planting Zones

Should you be unaware of what the zones are, they are different climate zones across the United States. The country is divided into 11 zones, with each zone being 10 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the previous one. Zones 5-9 tend to be the most popular for growing anything as the climate is seen to be the most favorable in them. Zones 5 and up are all relatively warm and provide the best soil and conditions for flora to bloom to several feet tall. Zones 5 are generally the best for variations that prefer warmer weather; however, zones 5 and up can also be too warm for variations that prefer the cold. It is important to know which zones your chosen grasses favor. However, it is safe to make the assumption that the majority prefer zones 5-9.


The soil used also has a major impact on the growing conditions. In order to ensure that the grasses bloom to several feet tall, the soil must be right for it. Growing to 3 or more feet tall requires that the soil has the right amount of water and nutrients. Soil that has been overused often runs out of nutrients and becomes barren. It is important to keep the soil fresh and full of nutrients for optimal growing conditions. One can choose to replace the soil after every few grows, or one can add some compost to the soil between grows.

Doing so replaces the nutrients in the soil, once again creating the ideal conditions for growing tall grasses. The size of most grasses ranges from about 3-7 feet tall, with some outliers able to reach a size of 10 feet tall. The soil should be kept moist but not too wet. Soil that is moist generally is just damp. People often make the mistake of thinking that moist means it needs constant water. Being moist means that it should only be watered now and then.

Tall ornamental grasses for privacy

Tall ornamental grasses for privacy are a great option for home or office landscaping because they provide privacy and natural air-purifying qualities. They also need very little maintenance, which makes them ideal for those who don’t have a lot of time to devote to the upkeep of their yards.

Tall ornamental grasses like Pampas Grass will grow quickly and thrive in many environments. They can be planted as a hedge for privacy, which will not only provide shelter but also look aesthetically pleasing.

Hardy ornamental grasses

One of the challenges that most people face is how to keep their lawns looking green and lush all year round. This is because the soil in most yards becomes hard and dry during winter, which doesn’t provide a hospitable environment for most ornamental grasses. One way to solve this problem is by planting hardy ornamental grasses in your yard.

Hardy ornamental grasses are a diverse group of plants that originate from predominantly from Asia, Africa, and South America. They can be found in a range of colors, shapes, and textures.

Most people don’t think about the hardy ornamental grasses as being a potential addition to their landscape. But they have a number of benefits that make them very attractive as a choice for the more adventurous landscape designer.

  1. Hardy Ornamental Grasses are Low Maintenance
  2. Hardy Ornamental Grasses are Easy to Grow
  3. Hardy Ornamental Grasses can be Used as Ground Cover or Fillers


What is the best ornamental grass for foundation planting?

When choosing an ornamental grass for foundation planting, several options work well to enhance your home’s exterior. Dwarf Fountain Grass is a compact choice with neat, mounded growth and graceful plumes. Blue Oat Grass offers striking silvery-blue foliage, while Little Bluestem provides stunning fall colors. Japanese Forest Grass adds a soft and elegant touch, and Feather Reed Grass adds height and structure. Consider the style of your home, available sunlight, and mature size of the grass when selecting the best option for your foundation planting.

What is the best soil mix for ornamental grasses?

The best soil mix for ornamental grasses consists of well-draining loam or sandy loam soil supplemented with organic matter like compost. Adding perlite or vermiculite improves drainage and prevents compaction. It’s important to maintain a slightly acidic to neutral pH range and avoid excessive fertilization. Be sure to consider the specific soil preferences of the ornamental grass species you’re planting and water appropriately, allowing the soil to dry out between waterings to prevent waterlogging.

What is the shortest ornamental grass?

Short ornamental grasses provide a compact and low-growing option for landscapes and gardens. Some examples of short ornamental grasses include Blue Fescue, which forms tufts of blue-gray foliage and reaches a height of 6 to 12 inches. Mondo Grass has grass-like leaves and grows in compact clumps, reaching about 6 to 8 inches in height. Japanese Forest Grass features cascading blades and typically grows to a height of 12 to 18 inches. Little Bluestem, while slightly taller than the others, ranges from 2 to 3 feet in height. When choosing a short ornamental grass, consider the desired height, growing conditions, and overall design aesthetic of your landscape.

The Bottom Line

The foliage of these grasses offers a variety of shades such as green, blue, and red. They often turn red in the fall, with green being favored throughout spring. The green hue of the foliage creates a warm and welcome feeling. The size of the foliage also works well in any environment. Green foliage is a great way to make any area appear more inviting.

They have been known to bloom well in almost any condition. Variations such as Karl Foerster growing to be pretty tall, they are beautiful and, if well-maintained, really add an elegant feel. The tall Karl Foerster grasses and other tall variations all bloom really well in full sun environments. So, if you are looking for a flora that grows well, is tall, and easy to maintain, you know what to do. Nothing is more inviting than a well-kept garden. Well, that is except for the sight of well-kept grass.

Rachel Lean
Rachel Lean

Adventurer, loving nature and plants, particularly Pampas Grass. Happy to share with other people the knowledge that I accumulated on the journey of my life.