Landscaping With Ornamental Grasses

Landscaping With Ornamental Grasses

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Imagine a garden of flowing, swaying, undulating plants that respond to the slightest breeze! Your garden should be as much about motion and texture as it is color and fragrance! So when you are designing your garden beds and landscape, don’t leave out Ornamental Grasses!

The beauty of Ornamental Grasses is they can be formal or informal, or both! Your choices range from dense, upright, sprawling, arching, architectural, tall, airy, spikey, or bold and colorful! And that’s just the foliage! You also have those plumes!

So Many Choices!

Small and compact, tall and regal, graceful and fluid- there are so many choices available these days! The best method to narrow down your options is to first select your Growing Zone, the Grass height and width, and how much Sun your area receives.

Also, remember Grasses come in two categories - Warm Season that grows in late spring/summer, and Cool Season which grows as soon as the ground warms in spring.

Table of Contents

Benefits of Ornamental Grass

  • Fast Growing - Reaching Mature Height in One Season
  • Xeriscaping Plants - Deep Roots are Very Water-Wise Once Established
  • Requires Little Maintenance - Once a Year Pruning & Divide Every Few Years
  • Highly & Widely Adaptable - Climate, Sun, Clay Soil, Drought, Salt, Urban Conditions & Weather
  • Often Black Walnut Tree Juglone Tolerant
  • Fine Texture, Plumes, Fall Color, & 3 to 4 Seasons of Interest
  • Great for Wildlife - Food, Shelter & Nesting
  • Wide Range of Colors Throughout the Year
  • Once Established are Self-Sufficient
  • Deer Resistant & Disease & Pest-Free

Cool Season -vs- Warm Season

Image of grasses that are good for warm seasons and grasses that are good for cold seasons

Tall Grasses - Privacy, Hedges, Screening, & Focal Points

fountain grass blowing in the wind

Tall, sturdy, and structural, these are your towers of waving blades, often growing vertical and erect for a dramatic exclamation point. These specimens are amazing back-of-the-border plantings, hedges, and privacy. Reaching at least 5 - 8 feet tall when in bloom, the informal or formal effect depends on how evenly you space them.

Persistent stems through the winter for 3-season screening that’s fast. From blocking an unsightly view and creating garden rooms, Tall Grasses are perfect for speedy screening. Hide your property from the street, or hide the neighbors with a closely planted row.

Use a series of 3, 5, or 7 on a berm planting in the front lawn, for a natural-looking, loose arrangement. If you prefer military precision, plant straight rows, 3 feet on center for a solid screen. Measure from the center of one to the center of the next. Stagger the plants in a zig-zag for an effective, unique display.

Because Tall Grasses need cut back in early spring to rejuvenate growth each year, you will not have a screen in early spring, but these fast-growing perennials come back bigger and better each year. If year-round privacy is a must, plant in front of a fence or row of privacy shrubs or trees while they mature.

  • Pampas/Ravenna Grass - Zones 7-10, Size Up to 10’ x 4’, Fast Growing, White Plumes, Drought Tolerant
  • Bluestem - Zones 3-10, Size Up to 6’ x 3’, Purple Plumes, Tall-Grass Prairie Native
  • Miscanthus/Maiden Grass - Zones 4-10, Size Reaching 8’, Purple/Pink Plumes, Fall Color
  • Moor Grass - Zones 4-8. Size Up to 6’ x 4’, Narrow Growing, Purple Plumes, Moist Soil
  • Switchgrass - Zones 3-9, Size Upwards of 8’, Warm Season, Upright Native Grass

Nature Hills picks are Skyracer Purple Moor Grass, Big Bluestem Grass, striped Porcupine Grass, and lovely Silver Feather Maiden Grass!

Mid-Sized Grass - Interest, Color, Texture & Motion

blue grass bush

Perfect as low hedges and interspersed throughout garden beds and borders for texture and color. The year-round interest, unique and unusual forms, plus color that changes throughout the seasons, allow you to enjoy something new as they transition from verdant spring growth to summer plumes to fall fiery colors!

Pepper these in ribbons or rows that undulate between other plants in your garden. Plant in rows for low property definition and as facer plants that hide larger tree or shrubs bare legs. They also add motion, sound, and variety.

  • Feather Reed - Zones 4-9, Reaching 5’, Narrow & Upright, Feathery Plumes, Poor Soils
  • Switchgrass - Zones 4-9, Size Upwards of 5’, Warm Season, Upright Native Grass, Colorful
  • Miscanthus - Zones 5-9, Size Upwards of 4’, Soft Fine Texture, Fall Color, Hardy
  • Fountain Grass (Pennisetum) - Zones 5-9, Size Upwards of 4’, Mounding & Arching, Color
  • Little Bluestem - Zones 3-9, Reaching 4’, Blue-Green Foliage & Great Fall Color, Natives

Nature Hills Horticulturist picks include Japanese Silver Grass, Dwarf Maiden Grass, or one of the many Variegated varieties.

Short Grasses - Fillers & Unique Interest

example of filler grass in a garden

Define edges or replace small patches of lawn with these low-growing gems. Easing the transition between lawn and garden, Small Grasses are perfect in long rows that create a finished effect.

Short Grass has a wispy habit that’s perfect for containers, planters, and even window boxes for waterfall spilling texture. Their clean lines spill gracefully onto walkways without taking over.

  • Fountain Grass - Zones 5-9, 1-2 Feet Tall, Spikey Plumes, Mounded Form
  • Blonde Ambition - Zones 4-9, Up to 3’ Tall, Unique Seeds
  • Carex (Sedges) - Zones 3-10, 1-2 Feet Tall, Love Moist to Wet Soil, Tousled Mounds
  • Blue Oat Grass - Zones 4-11, 2’ tall, Adaptable, Blue Foliage, Semi-Evergreen, Erosion
  • Mondo Grass - Zones 6-11, 2’ & Under, Warm Weather Evergreen, Unusual Dark Coloration

With names like Little Bunny, Tufted Hair, and Little Miss, you know these are adorable additions to your garden! Other favorites here at Nature Hills are Little Blue Fescue, Blonde Ambition, Prairie Dropseed, and Gold Dew Tufted Hair Grass.

Groundcover & Mass Plantings - Slopes, Naturalized, Prairies & Drama

example of ground cover grass in a garden

Create an effective, low-maintenance way of dealing with wide-open bare ground that needs filling fast. Perfect for Xeriscaping and creating the illusion of water with undulating, waves of grass blades and plumes. Alight a large area with wonder and dramatic banks of color.

Mass planted Grasses make a dangerous-to-mow hillside or slope into a waving sea of green while preventing erosion and also slowing water run-off. You can also create wildlife habitat and naturalized areas for cover, food, and nesting for gamebirds and songbirds!


  • Black Mondo - Replace your Lawn in Warm Regions - Evergreen
  • Elijah Blue Fescue - Perfect for Slopes
  • Grass Alternative Liriope (Lilyturf) - Shade & Very Moist Areas
  • Blue Zinger Sedge - Moist to Wet Areas
  • Prairie Dropseed
  • Little Bluestem
  • Evercolor® EverOro Sedge - Slopes & Hillsides

En Masse:

  • Twilight Zone Little Bluestem
  • Karl Foerster Feather Reed
  • Blond Ambition Blue Gramma
  • Heavy Metal Switchgrass
  • Pink Muhly
  • Purple Flame
  • Karley Rose Fountain
  • Red Switchgrass

Wet Soil Grasses

Picture of a gardener holding moist dirt in their hands

For that area where the gutters drain or a low area that’s soggy. Wet soil-loving Grasses are perfect in Rain Gardens and Run-off areas; filtering and slowing rushing water.

Plant around streams, ponds, and water features, they thrive in average garden conditions too. Water these during drought and mulch well. None do well in permanent standing water, or stagnant conditions.

Nature Hills Picks include Sedges, Fall Panicums, and Sweet Flag (alternative grassy foliage & Iris-like blooms)

Drought Tolerant Grasses

Leaves growing out of a dry lake bed

Watering just enough to get these tough customers established, then you won’t have to worry much afterward. Use in Rock Gardens, Dry stream beds, Sunbaked areas, and Commercial plantings, Naturalized Sites, and Restored Prairies, Xeriscaping Grass is the way to go.

  • Prairie Dropseed
  • Blue Oat Grass
  • Burgundy Bunny Fountain
  • Switchgrass
  • Miscanthus - If planted in part shade
  • Blue Fescue

Grass for Sun & Shade

Most grasses are made for the sun. In fact, they do best in at least 6 hours of direct sunlight a day. You also may lose their uniform growth and prolific flowering.

Grass for Partial to Full Shade

  • Sedges - Especially in drier sites & hotter zones
  • Japanese Forest Grass
  • Northern Sea Oats
  • Alternative Liriope (Lilyturf) - Grass-Like Foliage & Moist to Wet Soil & Shade

Sample Ornamental Grass Garden for Sun & Hot Climates

Tall - Pampas - Avoid Near Native Waterways
Dramatic Color - Purple Flame Grass
Soft Flowing - Pink Muhly
Specimen/Texture - Purple Fountain
Smaller Texture - Karley Rose Fountain
Filler - Twilight Zone Little Bluestem and/or Burgundy Bunny Dwarf Fountain

Sample Ornamental Grass Garden for Cold Climates

Tall - Porcupine
Dramatic Color - Korean Feather Reed
Soft Flowing - Northwind Switchgrass
Specimen/Texture - Northern Sea Oats
Smaller Texture - Fox Sedge
Filler - Gold Dew Tufted Hair Grass and/or Dwarf Fountain

Writers Choice Sample Garden:

Tall - Malepartus Maiden
Dramatic Color - Overdam Feather Reed
Soft Flowing - Adagio
Specimen/Texture - Heavy Metal Switchgrass
Smaller Texture - Blonde Ambition Blue Grama
Filler - Cassian Dwarf Fountain

Caring for Ornamental Grasses Infographic on how to take care of plants

Cut down to 4-6 inches in early spring before you see new growth, rake out the clump to remove dead debris and leaves. Our Garden Blog has great information on Pruning Grass Here! Some of the taller Grasses may require a pruning saw or trimmer if the blades are very stiff. The high silica in Grass blades dulls tools fast.

  • Adequate sunlight & moisture for the strongest stems
  • Well-drained soil - Berming an area improves drainage
  • Avoid over-fertilizing - Too much makes stems flop
  • Divide, in late fall or early spring.

Just like the old days when expenses of Short Grass and Tall Grass Prairies once dominated the Midwest, introduce a little of the ‘amber waves of grain’ back into your landscape today!

Let help you create an easy-care, beautiful landscape that works with you and for you instead of the other way around! Head over to our website where a world of choices of Ornamental Grasses await you today!

Plant Care Tips From The Plant Sentry™ Experts

When it comes to caring for your ornamental grasses, there are a few things that you’re going to want to keep an eye out for. These plants, while beautiful, aren’t invincible. They are susceptible to disease and pests the same way that many other plants are and should be cared for with the same consideration.

While ornamental grasses may face fewer threats than some plants, their devastation can be just as ugly...quite literally. These pests and diseases can quickly turn your beautiful garden into a wilted landscape design.

Some of the most common ailments that afflict these plants are fungicides, blights, rusts, and aphids. To monitor for these afflictions regularly check the leaves in the Spring, the Fall, and occasionally for root health. The wet Spring weather can bring about leaf spots that are more challenging to remove, and the Fall is the perfect time for rust to take hold of your plant. Keeping an eye out on the roots throughout the year will give you a good gauge of the overall health of your grasses. This will help you to take notice should a little extra help be needed before harder months in the Winter and other seasons that may cause stress to the plants.

For treatment options, offers a variety of pests and disease control treatment options that can quickly and safely help to protect your plant. Take a look at their options here.

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