All About Ornamental Grass
By Charlie Nardozzi, Gardening Author and Speaker
There are more than 46 million acres of lawns grown in the United States that require millions of dollars and tons of fertilizers and pesticides to maintain. However, there is another more ecologically sustainable type of grass that is a must-have for American yards.
Ornamental grasses are low-maintenance plants that are resilient, drought tolerant, have few pests and problems, and provide good wildlife habitat. They also provide winter interest, adding structure and texture to the landscape all year round.
Why Every Yard Needs Ornamental Grass
Grasses start the season with bright green foliage to fill out the landscape and create shelter for birds and pollinators. In fact, many native grasses are host plants for pollinators.
As the summer progresses, many varieties will produce inflorescence, or flowers, giving the plant new dimension.
As fall and winter approach, the foliage may shift colors with the season, and the flowers will produce seed heads. These not only look beautiful catching the afternoon sun, and filling out the garden when many flowers have faded, but the seeds of native grasses also provide a food source for songbirds.
Over the winter, when most plants have died back in dormancy, ornamental grasses stand proudly, providing interest in the winter landscape.
How To Can Enhance Your Yard With Ornamental Grass
While most people think of grass as their lawn, ornamental grasses fit in many places in the landscape.
Enhance Garden Borders: In a flowering perennial border, ornamental grasses can provide interesting color, texture, height, and late-season interest to complement colorful flowers. They are good companions for late summer and fall flowers such as Zinnias, Sedum, Asters, and Goldenrod.
Add Privacy To Your Yard: As you can see, some ornamental grasses can grow quite large. This makes them excellent privacy screen plants and good for making a seasonal hedge. The tallest grasses can provide a visual block as well as a windscreen. Miscanthus and Pampas Grass are some of the largest ornamental grasses (please note that these plants are considered invasive in some regions.)
Create No-Mow Groundcover: Some ornamental grasses are excellent low-growing, groundcover plants. Sedge Grass stay below 2 feet tall while still providing interesting foliage and flower heads, and they are often mass planted as a no-mow lawn alternative. Fescue Grass is a great drought-tolerant option for dry areas.
Add Texture and Create Movement: Some grasses, such as Switchgrass, seem to dance in the wind with their airy flower heads adding motion to the garden. Many grasses make a soothing rustling sound in the breeze.
Use Grass For Cut Flowers: Many ornamental grasses produce flower heads that can be used as dried flowers indoors. These flower heads can be mixed and matched with other seasonal flowers. Being dried, they have a long vase life. Pampas Grass and Fountain Grass are two popular species for cutting.
The Many Types Of Ornamental Grass
The term "ornamental grass" encompasses a wide range of plant species from around the world. Some are native to the Midwest prairies, while others are exotic imports. Some ornamental grasses can be invasive with spreading roots or self-sow readily, there are many native and introduced ornamental grasses that are well-behaved in a landscape.
Ornamental grasses are generally grouped into cool- and warm-season grasses. Cool-season grasses start growing in early spring and flower from fall to winter. Warm-season grasses start growing in late spring, once temperatures warm, and flower and set seed in summer and fall.
For more information about selecting the right grasses for your next planting, read How To Choose Ornamental Grass
Ornamental Grasses: Solutions For Challenging Areas
When selecting any ornamental grass, you'll need to first find a grass that is hardy in your area and suits your growing conditions.
Look for clumping versus spreading types and determine if you have the right location for that type of grass to grow and thrive. There's nothing worse than planting a large growing grass in a small space where it will be crowding other plants or blocking a walkway. Also, some ornamental grass, such as Northern Sea Oats, self-sow readily and can spread. If you want to contain their growth habit, you can trim back the plants or harvest the flower heads before they set seed, or be diligent about weeding out seedlings each spring.
Also consider what season you need color or interest in your garden. If you're looking for interesting leaf textures and colors in summer, look for colorful leaves on grasses such as Japanese blood grass and Porcupine grass. If you’re more inclined to enjoy interesting grasses in fall and winter, look for showy flower heads such as those on Fountain Grass.
Shop Ornamental Grass
‘Cloud Nine’ Tall Switchgrass, the tallest switchgrass cultivar available, is an easy-to-grow, award-winning native cultivar. Upright, blue-green foliage is topped with a...Learn MoreCloud Nine Switchgrass Cloud Nine Switchgrass Panicum virgatum Cloud NineAs low as $15.99 Sale $13.59Per Plant - 3" Pot
Northern Sea Oats is a one-of-a-kind native grass with upright, bamboo-like foliage and flattened seed heads that dangle from arched stems. Seed heads attract songbirds, provide wint...Learn MoreNorthern Sea Oats Northern Sea Oats, River Oats Chasmanthium latifoliumAs low as $13.32 Sale $11.32Per Plant - 3" Pot
Prairie Dropseed Grass adds movement and texture to the landscape with gentle mounds of arching thread-like foliage. Open seed heads float above the foliage in fragrant puffs in summ...Learn MorePrairie Dropseed Grass Prairie Dropseed Grass Sporobolus heterolepisAs low as $13.32 Sale $11.32Per Plant - 3" Pot
Purple Love Grass dazzles with an abundance of texture, from fine blue-green foliage to airy clouds of rose-purple flower panicles. Plants bloom mid to late summer followed by airy s...Learn MorePurple Love Grass Purple Love Grass Eragrostis spectabilisAs low as $13.32 Sale $11.32Per Plant - 3" Pot
Switchgrass Northwind is an extremely-hardy, native grass that thrives in any sunny spot. Gorgeous, steel-blue leaf blades change to a golden yellow in the autumn months, making it t...Learn MoreNorthwind Switchgrass Northwind Switchgrass Panicum virgatum NorthwindAs low as $18.65 Sale $15.85Per Plant - 3" Pot
‚Blackhawks‚ Big Bluestem Grass is a cultivar of a fine native prairie grass that has taken the gardening world by storm. Foliage emerges dark green, shifting to a deep p...Learn MoreBlackhawks Big Bluestem Grass Blackhawks Big Bluestem Grass PP#27949 Andropogon gerardii Blackhawks PP#27949As low as $18.65 Sale $15.85Per Plant - 3.5" Pot
Our Curb Appeal Ornamental Grass Collection is an easy way to refresh the appearance of your home or garden. Low-maintenance grasses provide year-round visual interest and dynamic te...Learn MoreCurb Appeal Ornamental Grass Collection Curb Appeal Ornamental Grass Collection$141.32 Sale $121.99Per Collection of 9
‚Shenandoah‚ Red Switchgrass is a favorite selection of native prairie grass with gorgeous, colorful leaves. New growth emerges green with red tips. Gradually the entire ...Learn MoreShenandoah Red Switchgrass Shenandoah Red Switchgrass Panicum virgatum ShenandoahAs low as $15.99 Sale $13.59Per Plant - 3.5" Pot
‚Pumila‚ Dwarf Pampas Grass makes a bold statement with massive ivory plumes towering over handsome arching foliage. Attractive feathery flowers emerge in late-summer and...Learn MorePumila Dwarf Pampas Grass Pumila Dwarf Pampas Grass Cortaderia selloana PumilaAs low as $14.65 Sale $12.45Per Plant - 3.5" Pot
Pennsylvania Sedge provides lush texture for dry shade gardens. Fine low-growing foliage arches gently, giving the appearance of soft, rolling waves. Makes a lovely groundcover or la...Learn MorePennsylvania Sedge Grass Pennsylvania Sedge Grass Carex pensylvanicaAs low as $11.99 Sale $10.19Per Plant - 3" Pot