Guide to Ornamental Grasses

We all love a lush lawn showcasing beautiful green grass, and just as striking as the grass of a lovely lawn are the eye-catching blades of ornamental grasses. There is an ornamental grass for every purpose from ground cover to privacy screen  to patio specimens. Here is a quick guide to grasses that will get you ready to design the perfect plan for your landscape! Check out our Plant Finder tool to see even more!

Roxy Kim-Perez Zen Garden
Photos © Nancee E. Lewis

Acorus 'Orgon'

Acorus, or Sweetflag Grass is an ornamental grass that does well in full to part shade, average to rich soil at stream and pond edges, or in damp and boggy ground. It will even tolerate being slightly under water. The ‘Ogon’ sweetflag has golden variegated foliage and grows to 15”.

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Calamagrostis 'Avalanche'

Calamagrostis, or Feather Reed Grass, is a very vertical grass that can reach 5 ft. in height. Their fluffy pink flowers appear in June, and become narrow and tan by August.  They do well in moist to dry soils. The ‘Avalanche’ variety has a white stripe down the center of the leaf, blooms June through July, and is happy in both sun and shade.

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Carex 'Gold Strike'

Carex, or Sedge, generally forms arching mounds that range from a few inches to more than 15” tall. Although it is not a true ornamental grass, it is a great companion to other other plants, and it does well in shade. The Gold Strike variety has thin blades of glowing bright creamy gold with edges of deep emerald green, creating gleaming color for your landscape.

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Erianthus 'Ravennae'

Erianthus, or Hardy Pampas Grass, is one of the loveliest ornamental grasses that does wonderfully as an accent or as a screen or border. It shows long, silvery white plumes that have great autumn coloring. The Pampas Grass grows 8-10 ft. tall and 4-6 ft. wide, and thrives in full sun.

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Festuca 'Elijah Blue'

Festuca, or Elijah Blue Fescue, has a striking icy blue color and forms in clumps. It holds up well even in the heat of the summer and is drought resistant. Buff colored flowers bloom in late summer and contrast nicely with the blue foliage. They grow quickly into dense mounds that reach 8-12 in. tall and wide. Perfectly suited for borders or to create contrast to other plants. It can be used as a ground cover when planted in mass, and is popular in rock gardens.

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Hakonechloa 'Aureola'

Hakonechloa, or Japanese Forest Grass, has thin leaves that resemble bamboo and rise from the roots on thin wiry stalks and lay gracefully in mounds. Hakonechloa does well in part to full shade. They are great in containers, as borders or in a rock garden. Depending on the variety, foliage can range from gold to green and turn pink to red in autumn. The height can range from 10-18”.

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Leymus 'Blue Dune'

Leymus arenarius, or Blue Dune Grass, displays beautiful steel-blue foliage. It is a spreading grass so it best used as a ground cover in a large sunny area or in a planter. They are very drought tolerant and easy to care for. Blue Dune Grass grows to 2 ft. tall and blooms in the late summer.

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Liriope 'Big Blue'

Liriope, or Lilyturf, is a low, grass-like flowering plant that grows 12-18” tall and up to 2 ft. wide. It forms in tufted arches with bluish purple flower spikes in the summer. They are superior for edging, borders or ground cover, and do well in full to partial sun. The variegated variety has a contrasting light stripe through its green foliage.

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Miscanthus 'Adagio'

Miscanthus, or Maiden Grass, is the queen of ornamental grasses. It showcases lush plumes and foliage that arch softly.  Miscanthus comes in many varieties with differing heights (from 3-12ft.), leaf widths, bloom times and colors of foliage.

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Muhlenbergia 'Pink Muhly'

Muhlenbergia, or Muhly Grass, is drought tolerant, easy to care for, and a beautiful native grass. It adapts to a range of different soil types, but it is native to hot and dry soils making it tolerant of high salinity.  The Pink Muhly variety is a show stopper with thin blue blades topped with bright pink blooms in late summer and autumn. It grows 2-3 ft. tall and wide.

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Panicum 'Shenandoah'

Panicum, or Switchgrass, is beautiful and functional. The taller varieties are perfect for creating backgrounds or privacy screens and they are a good alternative to exotic grasses. There are many varieties of Panicum that range from 3-6 ft. tall with green or blue foliage that often turns red in the fall.

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Pennisitum 'Hameln'

Pennisitum, or Fountain Grass, has a classic ornamental look and comes in a variety of heights and bloom colors. Some grow in an arching fountain shape, thus their common name of Fountain Grass. Both hardy and tender varieties are available, and range from 1 to 6 feet tall with bottlebrush plumes. They add a great ambiance to a landscape as they sway gracefully in the breeze. A popular variety is ‘Hameln’, or Dwarf Fountain Grass, because its size and shape (a two-foot fountain shaped mound) makes it good size for any landscape, and it thrives in full sun and dry conditions. The Hameln variety is versatile; making it great for creating a lush border or as a focal point on a small patio.