10 Ornamental Grasses For Texture & Contrast In The Landscape

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Discover The Best Ornamental Grass For Your Garden!

Ornamental grasses are invaluable additions to the landscape, but we don’t think they get enough credit. They rustle in the breeze, produce plumes of flowers, and add interest through the winter. They’re beautiful and functional, serving as low-cost privacy screens and borders. As an added bonus, they’re adaptable, deer-resistant, and create a habitat for wildlife. What’s not to love? No matter the unique landscape goal, these ornamental grasses are approved by Great Garden Plants horticulturists to be a great addition to your garden.

Pictured above: Ornamental Grasses

What Are Ornamental Grasses?

Are all ornamental grasses really grasses? Not really. The term “ornamental grass” is often used as an umbrella term to group together multiple perennials with a grass-like appearance, including true grasses, sedges (Carex), and rushes (Juncus). Horticulturists use the phrase “sedges have edges, rushes are round, and grasses have nodes from top to the ground” to remember their distinct stems.

Other than stem shape, there are a few key differences between the three groups. Unlike most grasses, sedges grow well in shade and can tolerate moisture, making them popular additions to wet-shaded sites. They’re semi-evergreen and keep their color all year long in warmer zones, especially those in the EverColor® series. Rushes are naturally found in very wet or even boggy sites, making them well-suited for rain gardens or nearby water features. We love growing them in containers for a playful texture, especially if you choose Big Twister. Finally, true grasses (like Miscanthus, Festuca, and Calamagrostis) thrive in full sun and well-draining soils, producing spikes of flowers and seed heads in late summer.

We group all of them as “ornamental grasses” for one main reason: it’s a lot easier that way! They all add similar structure, texture, color, and movement, making them a must-have for your landscape. 

Ornamental Grasses For Full Sun:

These grasses are true sun lovers! Generally, many varieties of ornamental grasses grow well in full sun (8+ hours of sunlight/day) environments, and these are no exception. Not only do these grasses grow rapidly in full sun, but many are also heat and drought-tolerant, making them excellent additions to an array of landscapes in growing zones 4 through 9. From open prairies to pavilions, these ornamental grasses will thrive.

Our recommendations:

‘Karl Foerster’ is a classic for a reason! This compact feather reed grass is easy to grow and creates a fast privacy screen with long-lasting blooms.

Not only does ‘Hameln’ fountain grass thrive in full sun, but it is also drought-tolerant and adaptable to a wide range of soils.

After planting Prairie Dropseed, you’ll marvel at its graceful texture. This native perennial features whispy plumes in the summer that look fantastic in a mass planting. 

Ornamental Grasses For Shade:

While many ornamental grasses grow best in full sun, there are still many options for shade gardeners. When searching for shade grasses, look for varieties that need less than 4 hours of sunlight daily. These grasses are also more cold-tolerant and will add style and texture to slopes or other shaded areas of the garden. 

Our recommendations:

The fine texture paired with the green/golden hues of the ‘Evergold’ sedge makes it perfect for adding appeal to rocky slopes and is evergreen in warmer climates.

Brighten up shady areas with the ‘Blue Zinger’ sedge! The cool-toned blue foliage is easy to grow in challenging sites, making it great tucked between rocks or other plants.

Tall Ornamental Grasses:

Ornamental grasses are an excellent choice for adding privacy to any home, creating a border along a driveway, screening between neighbor patios, and more. They grow quickly, with some reaching up to 5ft tall within the first growing season, which means you won’t have to wait long to enjoy their beauty and functionality. Plant in the spring or fall, and watch them flourish as the tall textures last up to 20 years!

Our recommendations:

This deer-resistant grass is not only durable but also can withstand periods of drought. Its tall and narrow habit also makes it a fantastic border or privacy hedge choice!

The variegated foliage of ‘Strictus’ maiden grass stands up to 6ft tall at maturity. Its gorgeous red-bronze flowers appear come fall and look fabulous in bouquets.

Ornamental Grasses For Color:

Are you looking for a pop of color for your maximalist garden? These grasses are sure to wow! Not all ornamental grasses just green, with some featuring gold, pink, blue, or even purple hues. When planting, make these grasses the focal point, or use them as a backdrop to your perennial flower garden. 

Our recommendations:

The fluffy pink plumes from Pink muhly grass are reminiscent of cotton candy! Vibrant pinks will transition to soft beige and tan colors come winter. Not just beautiful, this grass is tough and and adaptable. Plus, flowers can be used in cut arrangements.

Are you looking for year-round color and texture in the garden? Look no further than Prairie Winds® ‘Blue Paradise’ Bluestem grass, which provides silvery-blue foliage every season!

The soft pink plumes from ‘Karley Rose’ fountain grass add a romantic feel to the garden as it sways in the breeze. Once established, this fountain grass is resistant to drought, disease, and deer.

Written by: Lindsey Griffith, click here to read bio.

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