10 Best Perennial Ornamental Grasses for Your Garden

Ornamental grasses can transform your garden with versatile aesthetics, ranging from rustic to elegant. They’re not only visually appealing but also durable and low-maintenance, making them perfect for adding texture and movement to landscapes.

Here, we list some of the best perennial ornamental grasses that thrive year after year, each with unique characteristics that can enhance any garden setting.

1. Maiden Grass

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Maiden Grass is popular among gardeners for its graceful arching form and feathery plumes that persist through fall and into winter. This grass can grow to 6 feet tall and thrives in full sun. It’s known for its versatility in the landscape, serving as a stunning backdrop for perennial beds or as a privacy screen.

Features:

  • Height and Spread: 4-6 feet tall, 3-4 feet wide.
  • Zones: 5-9
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • Soil Type: Well-draining; tolerates a variety of soil types.
  • Special Care: Cut back in late winter before new shoots appear.

2. Switch Grass

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Switch Grass is native to North America and admired for its upright growth and reddish-purple foliage that turns golden in fall. It’s an excellent choice for naturalistic plantings and provides vital shelter and food for wildlife. Additionally, it is drought-tolerant once established, making it suitable for xeriscaping.

Features:

  • Height and Spread: 3-6 feet tall, 2-3 feet wide.
  • Zones: 4-9
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade.
  • Soil Type: Adaptable but prefers moist, well-draining soils.
  • Special Care: Cut back to the ground in early spring.

3. Feather Reed Grass

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Feather Reed Grass stands out for its feathery, vertical stalks that sway gracefully with the breeze. When planted in masses, this grass is particularly striking and can act as an accent plant. It’s known for its clump-forming habit and minimal spreading, making it a good choice for tidy gardens.

Features:

  • Height and Spread: 3-5 feet tall, 2-3 feet wide.
  • Zones: 4-9
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to light shade.
  • Soil Type: Prefers moist, fertile soils but is adaptable.
  • Special Care: Cut back in early spring before new growth starts.

4. Northern Sea Oats

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Northern Sea Oats are notable for their distinctive seed heads, which resemble oats and flutter charmingly in the wind. This grass is ideal for shady areas, making it rare among ornamental grasses. It spreads easily, which can be advantageous for filling spaces but may require control in smaller gardens.

Features:

  • Height and Spread: 2-4 feet tall, 1-2 feet wide.
  • Zones: 3-8
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to full shade.
  • Soil Type: Adaptable to various soil types; prefers moist, well-draining soil.
  • Special Care: Manage self-seeding to control spread.

5. Blue Fescue

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Blue Fescue is prized for its small size and striking blue foliage, making it an excellent choice for borders, ground covers, and rock gardens. It’s drought tolerant and low maintenance make it particularly appealing for busy gardeners. It forms tidy tufts of needle-like blades and adds a splash of color all year round.

Features:

  • Height and Spread: 10-12 inches tall, 9-12 inches wide.
  • Zones: 4-8
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Type: Well-draining; thrives in poor soils.
  • Special Care: Remove dead foliage in the spring and divide clumps to rejuvenate every few years.

6. Purple Fountain Grass

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Purple Fountain Grass is renowned for its striking burgundy leaves and feathery, rose-colored plumes. It’s a warm-season grass that makes a dramatic statement in any garden, particularly effective in mass plantings or as a focal point in containers. Although treated as an annual in cooler climates, it’s a perennial in warmer areas.

Features:

  • Height and Spread: 3-5 feet tall, 2-4 feet wide.
  • Zones: 9-11 (perennial), elsewhere grown as annual.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Type: Well-draining, fertile soil.
  • Special Care: Prune back in late winter or early spring in zones where it is perennial.

7. Hakone Grass

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Hakone Grass, also known as Japanese Forest Grass, offers a beautiful cascade of soft, flowing foliage that adds a sense of movement to the garden. It is particularly valued for its shade tolerance and vibrant color variations, including greens, golds, and stripes. It’s perfect for adding a lush, textural effect to shady areas.

Features:

  • Height and Spread: 1.5-2 feet tall, 2 feet wide.
  • Zones: 5-9
  • Sun Exposure: Partial to full shade.
  • Soil Type: Moist, well-draining soil rich in organic matter.
  • Special Care: Keep soil consistently moist and provide more shade in hotter climates to prevent scorching.

8. Big Bluestem

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Big Bluestem is a tall, upright native grass known as the monarch of the prairie. It is highly resilient and adaptable, making it perfect for sustainable landscaping. In the fall, its foliage turns a stunning mix of reds, oranges, and purples, while its turkey-foot-shaped seed heads add unique visual interest.

Features:

  • Height and Spread: 4-6 feet tall, 2-3 feet wide.
  • Zones: 3-9
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Type: Adaptable to various soils, including dry and infertile soils.
  • Special Care: Minimal care is needed; cut back in early spring before new growth starts.

9. Little Bluestem

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Little Bluestem is another native grass valued for its adaptability and striking seasonal color. During the summer, its blades are a mix of blue and green, transitioning to vivid oranges and reds in the fall. This grass is beneficial for erosion control and supporting native wildlife.

Features:

  • Height and Spread: 2-4 feet tall, 1.5-2 feet wide.
  • Zones: 3-9
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Type: Prefers dry to medium moisture, well-draining soils.
  • Special Care: Cut back in late winter to early spring to encourage fresh growth.

10. Prairie Dropseed

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Prairie Dropseed is prized for its fine-textured foliage and fragrant flowers that appear in late summer. It forms a dense, rounded clump of arching leaves with a unique fragrance often described as coriander. This grass is perfect for rock gardens and as an accent in drought-resistant plantings.

Features:

  • Height and Spread: 2-3 feet tall, 2-3 feet wide.
  • Zones: 3-9
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Type: Well-draining; tolerates poor soils.
  • Special Care: Very low maintenance; cut back in early spring to clean up before new growth begins.

Planting & Maintenance Tips

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Ensuring your ornamental grasses thrive involves proper planting and ongoing maintenance. Here are some valuable tips to help you get the most out of these versatile and beautiful plants:

  • Selecting the Right Location: Most ornamental grasses prefer full sun, but some tolerate partial shade. Choose a spot based on the specific needs of the species you are planting.
  • Soil Preparation: Before planting, enhance your soil by mixing in compost or other organic matter. This improves drainage and provides essential nutrients.
  • Planting: Plant ornamental grasses in spring or early fall to give them enough time to establish roots before the extremes of summer heat or winter cold.
  • Watering: Initially, water your new grasses regularly to help establish them. Once established, most ornamental grasses are drought-tolerant, but those in containers or very dry areas need more frequent watering.
  • Fertilizing: In the spring, apply a balanced, slow-release fertilizer to encourage healthy growth. Avoid over-fertilizing, which can lead to weak growth and flopping.
  • Mulching: Apply a layer of mulch around the base of the grasses to help retain moisture, suppress weeds, and regulate soil temperature.
  • Pruning: Cut deciduous grasses in late winter or early spring before new growth starts. For evergreen varieties, trim dead or damaged foliage to keep them looking neat.
  • Dividing: Periodically divide grass clumps every 3-4 years to rejuvenate them and prevent overcrowding. Spring is usually the best time for this task.
  • Checking for Pests and Diseases: While generally low-maintenance, ornamental grasses can occasionally suffer from pests like aphids or issues like rust. Inspect your plants regularly and treat problems early with appropriate measures.

By following these planting and maintenance tips, your ornamental grasses can become a low-care yet striking part of your garden landscape, providing beauty and interest for many years.

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Davin is a jack-of-all-trades but has professional training and experience in various home and garden subjects. He leans on other experts when needed and edits and fact-checks all articles.