Ornamental Grasses Add Height, Texture and Drama

Ornamental grasses are like a favorite pair of pants with a little stretch – dress them up, dress them down, give them center stage or use them to hide imperfections.

As landscape elements, ornamental grasses add height, texture, drama, color and multi-season interest. Fast-growing, they’ll shield an air conditioner, unsightly corner or chain-link fence.


foliage garden grasses

A home in the Rockridge area of Oakland, CA, uses ornamental grass on either side of a foliage bed.


These grasses are easy-care and drought tolerant once established. Ornamental grasses number in the hundreds and include true grasses, rushes and sedges. Maiden Grass, Fountain Grass, including purple varieties, and Pampas Grass, including dwarf varieties, have been popular for years.

But landscapers and home gardeners are using more and more grasses native to the U.S., including grass prairie switch grass (Panicum virgatum), wild sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium), little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) and Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans).

ornamental grass garden

The Missouri State University Botanical Garden and Arboretum dedicates a large area to showcase ornamental grasses.

There are warm-season grasses and cool-season grasses. Most ornamental grasses are hardy and perennial to Zone 5, though some such as the deep purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’)and Fiber Optic Grass (Isolepsis Scirpus) can be planted as annuals.

Other ideas:

  • Edgings and Borders: Use low-growing sedges along walkways or bed borders. Plant them closer together the species guidelines suggest to create a good line and quick results but be prepared to divide them after a year or two. Blue fescue is another great edging option.
  • Containers: Create a container garden with two or three ornamental grasses or use one dramatic type as the focal point, or “thriller” in the thriller-filler-spiller triad of container design. Tall containers with ornamental grasses make a formal statement and look great on flagstone patios and against walls.
  • Ground Covers: Add ornamental grasses to reduce yard space that requires mowing and irrigation and group low-growing grasses such as blue fescue. Many sedges, in the family Carex, perform well in shade and are evergreen.
  • Privacy: Group tall grasses for a fast-growing screen. Big Bluestem can reach 6 feet, Moor Grass, 7 feet or more), and Ravenna Grass can top 12 feet or more. Because ornamental grasses get cut back in early spring, expect a bare few months but will fill in quickly.
zebra grass as screen

This gardener used free Zebra grass divisions from Craigslist to screen a compost area.

After planting or dividing, most ornamental grasses need regular watering for a year or two. However, over-watering is the biggest threat because these plants don’t like soggy roots. Too much fertilizer can make ornamental grasses droopy.

border with ornamental grasses

Vary height, color and texture in a swath or ornamental grasses.

Because these graceful garden additions grow so well, watch for the tell-tale dead center, a sign dividing is overdue.

Remember, too, that bamboo is an ornamental grass. Anyone who has planted bamboo knows all too well to select clumping varieties, not running ones.

Looking for more suggestions?  Check out Monrovia Nursery’s post which features a variety of gorgeous and easy-to-grow ornamental grasses.



, ,

2 Responses to Ornamental Grasses Add Height, Texture and Drama

  1. Graciebelle November 1, 2013 at 1:53 pm #

    Do you have any tips for cutting back ornamental grasses? Also, should I do it in the spring or fall?

    • Your Easy Garden Team November 1, 2013 at 2:00 pm #

      Once they get quite large, grasses can be a challenge to cut back. Our experts tell us that the easiest was is to wrap a sheet around the grass clump; secure it by either tying the ends or using a “bungee”. Then using hedge clippers (electric or hand clippers), cut the grass back to about 1-2 feet from the ground. Having the sheet around the bundle makes it easy to dispose of the grass stalks. In areas that don’t get much snow, it’s easy to do in either the spring or the fall, but if you’re in an area that gets heavy snow, you may want to do it in the fall before the snow pushes everything to the ground. We’ve also heard of people using a chain saw but beware that the grasses can quickly dull the saw chains.

Leave a Reply

Designed & Developed by Frey Brothers Media