26 Different Types of Ornamental Grass with Pictures and Basic Care Information

Whether you have a large yard, a small patch of land to call a garden, or just a balcony to hang some container plants, you can find more than one ornamental grass variety to suit your needs. Despite being called ‘grass’, they are no less attractive than any flowering border and ground cover plants. The added advantage is that these are often much less fussy about their growing conditions than most flowering plants. Here is a list of the best tall and short ornamental grasses with images to make it easier for you to identify them:

Ornamental Grass

Popular Kinds of Colorful Ornamental Grasses with Their Varieties

Perennial Tall Ornamental Grasses

These are often planted to provide some privacy in one’s garden and home.

1. Pampas Grass (Cortaderia selloana)

Pampas Grass

With foot-long feathery inflorescence, pampas is probably the best option if you are looking to plant something to provide you a little privacy. It can tolerate drought conditions but does well with weekly watering during hot summers. Some similar-looking species are highly invasive, so check with the nursery to make sure you are getting C. selloana or its cultivars.

Height: 3-12 feet

Width: 4-8 feet

Sunlight: Full sun; can survive in partial shade

USDA Zone: 5-9

Varieties: ‘Andes Silver’ Pampas, ‘Pumila’ Pampas, ‘Silver Fountain’ Pampas

2. ‘Prairie Fire’ red switchgrass

Prairie Fire Red Switchgrass

As the name implies, its foliage turns a deep shade of red or purple by early summer, turning lighter over the weeks till its pale yellow by the end of fall. Produces tiny green feathery flowers in late summer that work well as cut flowers too. Low-maintenance plants can grow in almost any soil type. Drought-tolerant, but does well with weekly watering.

Height: 4-6 feet

Width: 2-3 feet

Sunlight: Full sun

USDA Zone: 4-9

Varieties: None

3. Purple Moor Grass (Molinia caerulea)

Purple Moor Grass

Clump-forming plants with long slender blades that provide a wispy appearance, it grows well in moist, fertile soils. Needs weekly watering, and more frequently during hot summers. It helps during the flowering season if the plant is protected from the hot afternoon sun.

Height: 4-6 feet

Width: 1-2 feet

Sunlight: Full sun to partial shade

USDA Zone: 5-8

Varieties: M. caerulea ‘Moorhexe’, Variegated Purple Moor Grass, M. caerulea  ‘Sky Racer’

4. Zebra Grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’)

Zebra Grass

With its dramatic green and yellow variegated foliage, this award-winning tall maiden grass cultivar can grow in various kinds of moist and well-drained soil. The foliage takes on a golden-green appearance in fall. It produces purple or pinkish flowers in summer. It can be planted along with ‘morning light’ maiden grass, which looks similar, sans the variegated patterns.

Height: 4-7 feet

Width: 3-5 feet

Sunlight: Full sun

USDA Zone: 4-9

Varieties: None

5. Flame grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘purpurascens’)

Flame Grass

Yet another tall maiden grass variety, this one is highly sought-after for its ‘flaming’ purple-red foliage in summer and fall. It also produces attractive coral-pink plumes in late summer, on tall stems towering over the foliage. Can grow in almost any well-drained soil with regular watering.

Height: 5-6 feet

Width: Up to 3 feet

Sunlight: Full sun to partial shade

USDA Zone: 4-9

Varieties: None

6. Purple Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’)

Purple Fountain Grass

An attractive cultivar of the native weed species called fountain grass, this colorful ornamental grass is completely non-invasive. Usually a perennial, it can be grown as an annual grass in cold northern areas. Needing little care once established, this one is perfect for people who do not get much time to tend to their garden but still want it to look well maintained.

Height: 3-5 feet

Width: 2-4 feet

Sunlight: Full sun

USDA Zone: 8-11

Varieties: None

7. Northern Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium)

Northern Sea Oats

Also known as wood oats, it boasts of bushy dark green foliage with unique seed-heads that look like oat heads, earning it the common name. The seed-heads turn a striking shade of rusty brown in winter. It is a good option for rock gardens and can tolerate full sun. Needs weekly watering to keep the soil moist. Can be planted with iris, trutleheads, and coneflowers.

Height: 2-5 feet

Width: Up to 3 feet

Sunlight: Partial sun

USDA Zone: 3-9

Varieties: Northern Sea Oats ‘River Mist’

8. ‘Karl Foerster’ Feather Reed Grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’)

Karl Foerster Feather Reed Grass

A clump-forming ornamental grass, the foliage usually grows up to 2 feet with the flower stalks towering over them at heights of 5-6 feet in spring. Produces straw-colored seed-heads, but the seeds are sterile. Fast-growing grass, it can be a good option if you are after some privacy in your lawn. Makes ideal companion plants for asters, shrub roses, and Russian sage.

Height: 2-6 feet

Width: 2-3 feet

Sunlight: Full sun

USDA Zone: 4-9

Varieties: None

9. Prairie Cord Grass (Spartina pectinata)

Prairie Cord Grass

Also known as the freshwater cordgrass, this one is basically a native wild grass variety that is slowly getting introduced to ornamental gardening. Extremely hardy in both wet and drought conditions, it needs little care and produces tall, straight foliage with tiny purple flowers growing in summer. Can spread in vast areas quickly unless controlled.

Height: 3-8 feet

Width: 3-4 feet

Sunlight: Full sun

USDA Zone: 3-7

Varieties: ‘Red River Germplasm’ Prairie Cord Grass

10. Himalaya Fairy Grass (Miscanthus nepalensis)

Himalaya Fairy Grass

Also known as Nepal fairy grass, it is native to Southeast Asia and India, growing best in areas with cold winters. It can grow in any type of moist, well-drained soil, and boasts of attractive bushy evergreen or deciduous foliage. Grass blades can turn brownish or bronze in winter. Produces yellowish flower spikes in summer.

Height: 4-5 feet

Width: 2-4 feet

Sunlight: Full sun

USDA Zone: 8-9

Varieties: None

Short or Dwarf Ornamental Grass Varieties

Apart from being popular for low-growing borders and hedges, these are also quite common as easy-to-grow houseplants.

1. Lilyturf (Liriope muscari)

Lilyturf Ornamental Grass

Also known as the big blue lilyturf, it is actually an evergreen grass-like flowering plant that can be planted like any ornamental grass in your garden. Tolerant to full sun and drought conditions, it produces pink to lavender, fragrant flower spikes in spring.

Height: 1-2 feet

Width: up to 1 feet

Sunlight: Partial to full shade

USDA Zone: 5-9

Varieties: Variegated Liriope, L. spicata ‘Silver Dragon’

2. Blue Fescue (Festuca glauca)

Blue Fescue Ornamental Grass

As the name suggests, it grows attractive dark bluish-green grass blades that turn green unless it gets a lot of sunlight. Bluish flower spikes appear in summer, gradually turning bright yellow. Established plants have low care and watering needs. Looks good with red and yellow-flowered ground covers.

Height: 1-3 feet

Width: Up to 2 feet

Sunlight: Full sun

USDA Zone: 4-8

Varieties: Festuca glauca ‘Elijah Blue’

3. Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon japonicus)

Mondo Grass

This is another lily turf species that has made its name as an ornamental grass despite not actually belonging in the grass family. The bushy evergreen foliage, the appearance of purple flower spikes in summer, followed by beautiful dark blue berries all make it valuable as a groundcover, border, or container plant. Needs little care once established.

Height: 0.75-1.5 feet

Width: 1-2 feet

Sunlight: Full to partial sun

USDA Zone: 6-11

Varieties: Variegated Mondo Grass, ‘Silver Dragon’ Mondo Grass

4. Pink Muhly or Cotton Candy Grass (‎Muhlenbergia capillaris)

Pink Muhly Grass

Also known as hairawn muhly, this is a perennial, semi-evergreen ornamental grass with fluffy pink/purple flowers and a sedge-like appearance. Best suited for well-drained soils, including rocky soils, it needs regular watering only while growing. Fast-growing and quite drought-tolerant once established.

Height: 2-3 feet

Width: Up to 3 feet

Sunlight: Full sun

USDA Zone: 5-10

Varieties: ‘White Cloud’ Muhly, ‘Pink Flamingo’ Muhly

5. Blue Dune Lyme Grass (Leymus arenarius ‘Blue Dune’)

Blue Dune Lyme Grass

With its gorgeous silver-gray foliage, this one is ideal for borders and ground covers when combined with maroon-leafed plants like ninebark or vivid flowers like bush rose, and Crane’ s-bill. Produces brown or straw-colored flower spikes in summer. The fast-growing perennial grass is tolerant of salty soils, drought, as well as heat, but grows best in cold conditions.

Height: 2-3 feet

Width: Up to 3 feet

Sunlight: Full to partial sun

USDA Zone: 4-9

Varieties: None

6. Japanese Blood Grass (Imperata cylindrical ‘Red Baron’)

Japanese Blood Grass

The grass species Imperata cylindrical or cogongrass is a highly invasive weed in both the US and Europe. But Japanese blood grass is a striking non-invasive cultivar that grows in tight clumps with vivid red leaf blades that add character to your garden. Tolerates dry, hot seasons, but does best with weekly watering. Make sure you want a lot of red in your garden before choosing this ornamental grass.

Height: 1-2 feet

Width: up to 2 feet

Sunlight: Full sun

USDA Zone: 5-9

Varieties: None

7. Blue Oat Grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens)

Blue Oat Grass

A clump-forming, gracefully arching evergreen grass with straw-colored flower spikes appearing in summer. Draught-tolerant and can survive with irregular watering and little care. It looks like blue fescue but grows taller on average. With its blue foliage and yellowish flowers, it looks best with maroon, pink, and purple flowers like barberry, lavender, ajuga, and yucca.

Height: 2-3 feet

Width: Up to 3 feet

Sunlight: Full sun

USDA Zone: 3-9

Varieties: ‘Sapphire Fountain’ Blue Oat Grass

8. Hare’s-Tail Grass (Lagurus ovatus)

Hare's-Tail Grass

Also called the bunny’s tail grass, the name comes from the feathery cream to white flower spikes that make excellent cut flowers too. It is an extremely hardy annual grass variety that can grow in all soil types from sandy to moist, well-drained soils. It has excellent drought tolerance and can be grown in almost any hardiness zone, outside of its range.

Height: 1-2 feet

Width: Up to 2 feet

Sunlight: Full sun

USDA Zone: 8-11

Varieties:

9. ‘Little Kitten’ Maiden Grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Little Kitten’)

Little Kitten Maiden Grass

It can grow in various types of soil, from light sandy to heavy clay and loam soils. Extremely tolerant of drought, heat, and shaded conditions once established. Each thin grass blade has a narrow white border that lends a silvery color to the neat fountain-shaped foliage. The leaves turn golden or bronze in winter. Silvery pink-white flowers appear in late summer.

Height: 2-3 feet

Width: 1-2 feet

Sunlight: Full sun

USDA Zone: 5-9

Varieties: None

10. Prairie Dropseed

Prairie Dropseed Ornamental Grass

A striking low-growing ornamental grass, growing compact mounds of delicate bushy foliage that looks pretty when swaying with the wind. Clusters of tiny yellowish or brown mildly fragrant flowers appear in spring. The foliage turns a vivid shade of bronze or gold in the fall. Deer-resistant perennial grass variety, it can tolerate dry conditions, as well as snow, staying erect and attractive even during winter.

Height: 2-3 feet

Width: Up to 3 feet

Sunlight: Full sun

USDA Zone: 3-9

Varieties: Dwarf Prairie Dropseed

11. Little Bluestem

Little Bluestem Ornamental Grass

Capable of growing in both acid and alkaline soils, this fast-growing perennial grass is a good option for beginners. The erect blue-green foliage turns a pretty rust shade in winter. Can survive in partial shade but too little sunlight, and too much water can make the foliage droop.

Height: Up to 3 feet

Width: 1.5-2 feet

Sunlight: Full sun

USDA Zone: 3-9

Varieties: ‘Carousel’ Little Bluestem, ‘The Blues’ Little Bluestem

12. Tufted Hairgrass ‘Northern Lights’ (Deschampsia cespitosa ‘Northern Lights’)

Tufted Hairgrass Northern Lights

A cool-season grass grows attractive variegated grey-golden foliage that has a tint of pink or purple in fall. Average care and watering needs. An excellent choice for borders, groundcover, and rock gardens.

Height: 1-3 feet

Width: Up to 2 feet

Sunlight: Filtered sun to light shade

USDA Zone: 4-9

Varieties: None

13. Mexican Feather Grass (Nassella tenuissima)

Mexican Feather Grass

The first thing to keep in mind about this one is that despite its popularity as a gardening grass, it is highly invasive. So, make sure to plant it only if you can control its growth. Can grow in almost any type of soil, needing little care. Draught-tolerant once established.

Height: 1-3 feet

Width: Up to 2 feet

Sunlight: Full sun

USDA Zone: 7-11

Varieties: ‘Pony Tails’ Mexican Feather Grass

14. Japanese Forest Grass

Japanese Forest Grass

A semi-evergreen perennial ornamental grass variety, it grows thick tufted foliage with relatively broad leaf blades. Grows best in moist soils, needing no special care once established. A good option for waterside gardens. It does well in containers as well.

Height: 1-3 feet

Width: Up to 3 feet

Sunlight: Full sun to shade

USDA Zone:

Varieties: Japanese Forest Grass ‘All Gold’, ‘Aureola’, ‘Albo Striata’

15. New Zealand Hair Sedge (Carex comans ‘Frosted Curls’)

New Zealand Hair Sedge

Short mound-forming grass with thin wispy olive green blades with silver tips with the foliage turning bronze-brown in winter. Looks best as borders to rock gardens or along water edges. It does well with weekly or more frequent watering to keep the soil moist. Best when planted along with iris and hosta plants.

Height: 1-2 feet

Width: Up to 2 feet

Sunlight: Full sun to full shade

USDA Zone: 6-10

Varieties: None

16. Variegated Japanese Sedge (Carex morrowii ‘Variegata’)

Variegated Japanese Sedge

One of the popular Japanese sage varieties with variegated foliage, it grows best in fertile wet soil with regular watering to keep the soil moist. Can stay evergreen in humid regions of Southern US, but not in the colder Northern areas. Suitable as a companion plant to dogwoods, bee balms, and forsythia.

Height: 1-2 feet

Width: 1-2 feet

Sunlight: Full sun to full shade

USDA Zone: 5-9

Varieties: None

The care requirements usually vary depending on what grass you have, but there are a few common factors. Most of these turn brown or bronze in winter, and while it renders a striking appearance, you need to cut these dry stems back to about 2 inches at the end of winter to allow new growth next season. Evergreen grasses just need trimming once every 1-2 years to keep them in shape. Most of these also need to be divided, or they may start dying in the middle.

Check with the nursery to make sure you are not getting some weedy species, as there are some popular ornamental grasses can be more or less invasive.

by | Updated : October 14, 2019



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