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A natural meadow planting featuring native perennials and ornamental grasses

How To Choose Ornamental Grass

American Meadows offers a wide variety of ornamental grasses.  Large or small, a well-chosen grass brings rich texture, contrast and movement to a space and can provide those same elements throughout the four seasons. Plus, their foliage is even beautiful enough to be included in cut flower arrangements. Plus, if you're looking for native plants, native grasses add resilience and habitat to your yard. 

Every garden can be enhanced by an ornamental grass. Read on to find the right grass for your garden!

Considerations For Ornamental Grass

The term Ornamental Grass includes a wide number of species. Our selection is thoughtfully curated to include native species, native cultivars, and introduced cultivars that are proven garden performers. 

Native Grasses

Our native ornamental grass selection includes straight native species of grasses, as well as native grass cultivars. Most native ornamental grasses have a very wide native range - which typically means that they are resilient and adaptable to a wide range of growing conditions. They're deep rooted, which makes them long-lived, drought tolerant, and helpful for improving your soil health - and even preventing erosion.

Did you know? Many ornamental grasses are host plants for moths or butterflies. Be sure to include them in your pollinator and butterfly gardens!

We also offer a wide selection of native grass seeds and mixes, too. 

Introduced Grasses such as Feather Reed Grass and Fountain Grass are beautiful, highly resilient, easy-to-grow, and proven garden favorites. These are popular across the country for their stunning foliage and exceptionally low-maintenance habits. 


Ornamental Grass By Height & Form

As size is often a first consideration for choosing plants, we've grouped our main ornamental grasses by size. 

Here is a comparison chart for the heights of our most popular ornamental grasses:


Tall Ornamental Grasses

Correctly placed, a tall ornamental grass makes an elegant statement in any setting. Tall grasses can create privacy and a sense of enclosure in a larger space. It is imperative that you ensure you have adequate room for its mature size. Many large grasses not only grow up, but their clump size increases in circumference. Paying attention to the final size estimations and giving the plant space to mature means that you won't have to move the large plant in the future, and can enjoy your grass for years to come.

Here are some favorite tall ornamental grasses: 

Feather Reed Grass

Feather Reed Grass
(Calamagrostis spp.)


A favorite of landscapers, feather reed grasses can add a sharp, vertical accent, or a wider, softer one, depending upon the species. Moisture-retentive soil is best for this grass, but it can cope with drier soils once establish. Pair with lower growing perennials for an architectural look. Seed heads deliver added beauty late in the season. Sun-loving.

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Medium Ornamental Grasses

Medium-sized ornamental grasses are the most versatile in garden and landscape design. They can create layers of texture and movement without sacrificing too much space or blocking other important views that might be obstructed by larger grasses. They rarely need staking, and can provide a contrasting background to other perennials, or simply stand on their own as a focal point. They are particularly striking as a showcase for the natural shape and color of the grasses. They’re also extremely useful in container plantings.

Here are some favorite medium-sized grasses:

Northwind Switchgrass

(Panicum spp.)

Switchgrasses are native, clump-forming grasses with a strongly upright habit. They form light, airy panicles of silvery-red bloom in late summer and adapt well to poor soil once established. Sometimes called 'Bunchgrass,' Switchgrasses are an excellent choice for restoring prairie meadows and for combining with wildflowers. Full Sun.

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Little Bluestem

Little Bluestem Grasses
(Schizachyrium spp.)

Very recognizable in fields and meadows, clumps of Little Bluestem begin as blue-green grasses and end the season in deep bronze and chestnut hues. This native prairie plant, also known as Beardgrass, is a rampant self-seeder that will naturalize beautifully over time. Little Bluestem can be used to form large colonies. Full Sun.

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Fountain Grass

Fountain Grass
(Pennisetum spp.)

Fountain grasses have long been considered the gold standard for adding soft, colorful interest to ornamental containers and beds. Large, fluffy seed heads in varying shades of soft pink and taupe add to the display as summer draws on. Some species in this genus are annual in colder climates, but many are hardy as far as Zone 6. Full Sun to Part-Shade.

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Small Ornamental Grasses

Whether edging a pathway, filling a container, or providing texture for the front of the border, small ornamental grasses are fun to use and easy to design with. From lush variegated sedges to bushy fescues, they provide an important grassy texture in your garden without making you commit to larger specimens. There is much variability in the cultivation of small grasses – many of them thrive in shady moist spots, while others are happiest in the sun. For a gardener who has not dabbled in ornamental grasses, they’re a great group with which to get started.

Here are some favorite small-in-stature grasses for the garden:


Sedge Grass
(Carex spp.)

Sedges bring incredible color and texture to the moist, shady garden and are quite low-growing. Use them in so many ways – from 'underplanting' larger shrubs and trees to edging pathways or providing a bright, evergreen spark in containers. Part-sun to shade.

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Elijah Blue Grass

Fescue Grass
(Festuca spp.)

Ornamental fescues are silvery blue in color and grow into soft spiky clumps that can be planted in patterns for great effect. They are also terrific container grasses and particularly complement succulent troughs. Tawny flowers contrast beautifully with the foliage in mid-spring. Fescues can also be used to naturalize quickly and are a great choice for installing in swaths. Full sun to part shade.

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The Best Ornamental Grasses For Your Growing Conditions & Garden Goals

Grasses fulfill many design roles in the garden – providing privacy, pattern, and strong architectural elements. But they can also meet functional needs by creating habitat for wildlife or maintaining effective erosion control along a steep bank. Knowing what you want from a grass can help you narrow down your choices and decide if the way a particular grass spreads or grows will eventually become a problem for your landscape.

Best Ornamental Grasses for Shade

The best ornamental grasses for shade are sedges. Taller grasses are rarely vigorous in shade conditions and tend to reach toward sunlight and eventually flop. 

Blue Fescues are often happy in a part shade position, particularly with moist soil.

Best Ornamental Grasses for Moist Areas

In sunny spots, Feather Reed and Fountain Grasses relish a consistently moist, but not boggy soil, but can grow fat on it, so watch out! In the shade, which is sometimes moist, Sedges are great lovers of constant moisture. 

Best Ornamental Grasses for Privacy

Tall ornamental grasses can reach heights of 5 feet tall and above, perfect for enclose a space and creating a sense of serenity and privacy. Make sure to space plants so that they can fill out to their full mature size. 

Don’t underestimate the use of slightly smaller medium grasses such as switchgrass to give you the same effect – particularly if the area is a seating area and views at eye-level will still be blocked.

Best Ornamental Grasses for Small Gardens

If you have a small garden, it is vital that you carefully research the grass you wish to grow and assume that the tall end of its height range is the eventual height you will end up with in your landscape. Clump-forming grasses are usually your best bet, such as fountain grasses or fescues. Small gardens with a bit of shade have even more choices with sedges too. 

Also, don’t forget to consider the possibility of showcasing a colorful medium-sized clumping grass as a specimen, such as or 'Karley Rose' fountain grass. Sometimes a bold planting in a small space can really attract the eye and give a professional touch to your design.

Path through perennial beds in summer. Pink and white phlox on the left, Karley Rose fountain grass along the right

Best Ornamental Grasses for Pathways or Hedging

Edging with grasses is a wonderful way of bringing attention to a specific path in your garden or creating a formal touch – but it’s important to use grasses that are clump forming and well-behaved when it comes to self-seeding.

Mounds of fountain grass can create gentle arching foliage to line a hedge or pathway. For taller privacy hedging, choose those that are strongly vertical and that won’t grow too far into the path itself, such as Feather Reed Grasses or Switchgrasses.


Best Ornamental Grasses For Color

Many grasses bring late-season color to the garden as they age, such as Big Bluestems, Little Bluestems, and Switchgrasses. Don’t forget about the color of flowering stems and seed heads – they often provide great contrast to the foliage (as with blue fescues) creating a stunning specimen in the landscape.

Best Ornamental Grasses for Containers

Mounding cultivars of low-to-mid-height grasses lend themselves beautifully to containers. They create a soft, graceful feature that can be left on its own as a specimen, or if smaller, paired with other perennials to create texture and movement in a container.

Fountain Grasses are one of the most popular container plants, but the highly colorful and evergreen nature of many of the Sedges is contributing to their growing popularity.

Best Ornamental Grasses for Four-Season Interest

When you plant anything in your garden, thinking about the way it will look during the off-season is just as important as thinking about how it looks during the growing season – and this consideration is precisely why many of the ornamental grasses shine. From the tawny colors of muhly grasses topped with frothy plumes to the evergreen golds, greens, and silvers, ornamental grasses for every taste.

Don’t forget to consider the architectural impact of drying grass clumps as well. Switchgrasses, Big Bluestems, and Little Bluestems remain upright in the landscape, as do some species of Feather Reed Grass. These grasses can help you get well on your way toward a four-season garden.

Best Ornamental Grasses for Wildlife Habitat

Giving wildlife a place to shelter during the seasons is just as important as providing a food source, and many of our native grass species and cultivars make a terrific habitat for birds and insects. Big Bluestem and Little BluestemSwitchgrasses, and Yellow Prairie Grass grow quickly and densely and are erect throughout the winter months. Planting them with various native perennial plants such as Coneflower, Black-Ryed Susan, or Butterfly Weed ensures that there’s not just a home available, but a meal as well.

Best Ornamental Grasses for Meadowscaping & Mass Planting

Ornamental Grasses are the ideal addition to naturalistic plantings. Planted in large swathes, these grasses deliver color, texture, and movement from spring through fall, and can fill your landscape with texture over the winter as well. Grasses with upright habits, such as Big Bluestems and Little Bluestems are a popular choice for clumping grasses in a meadow, while Yellow Prairie Grass or Lovegrass, can provide more of a uniform background to other flowering perennials.

With clouds of airy seed heads, 'Pink Cloud' Muhly Grass or 'White Cloud' Muhly Grass are terrific for mass planting. These are instant favorites of anyone who grows them for their attractive, graceful habit.

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