Ornamental grasses are versatile, easy, low-maintenance, and beautiful. Catching the movement of the wind, they bring flow and sway to the garden and, as the seasons change, provide different interest from spring through winter. They add a distinct textural element as well. Their versatility extends from containers to the garden bed.

In containers, grasses add form and texture, and can serve as a thriller or filler. In the garden, smaller grasses can be massed together and the larger ones can stand alone as a focal point or a screen. Grasses can also be a major component of a low-maintenance, drought-tolerant landscape design or a rain garden.

Clumping versus Running:

No need to worry, most ornamental grasses will not take over your yard. Grasses fall into two categories: clumping and running. The running grasses spread by creeping rhizomes to form larger and larger colonies.

The clumping grasses form a clump that will slowly increase in girth over the years. Most ornamental grasses are clumping. Some of these will self-sow, but should not become a nuisance and can be used to your advantage if you are going for a natural look.

Ornamental Grasses

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Ornamental Grasses


Sun grasses like a full day of sun (at least 6 hours); Shade grasses prefer a couple hours of morning sun or light, dappled shade all day.

Most like soil with good drainage, so adding compost to your garden soil when you plant is recommended. A ratio of 1/3 compost to 2/3 garden soil is best. Grasses will need regular water when it is hot and dry for the first few years. Once established, drought tolerant grasses will need little to no water.


Ornamental grasses are very low-maintenance. For grasses that are dormant during the winter, just cut off the dead foliage before the spring growth gets too tall. This can be done any time after the foliage turns brown in fall through early spring.

In the Pacific NW it is best to do this in February to avoid rot. Once new growth appears, prune last year’s foliage to above growth. For evergreen grasses, a spring clean- up to remove any dead or ratty leaves and old flower stalks is all they need.

Container Grasses for Sun

  • Carex testacea Orange New Zealand Sedge – 1.5’ tall and wide. Orange in winter. Very adaptable. Evergreen.
  • Molinia ‘Variegata’ Purple Moor – 2’ tall, clumping. Variegated with nice shape. Deciduous.
  • Stipa tenuissima Mexican Feather Grass – 2’ tall, clumping. Semi-evergreen and drought tolerant, reseeds.
  • Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ Feather Reed Grass – 5’ tall, green blades with pink plumes. Likes it moist, is deciduous. Great in clay soil.

Container Grasses for Shade

  • Carex ‘Ice Dance’– 15” tall, clumping. Evergreen can take sun.
  • Deschampsia ‘Northern Lights’ Hair Grass - Glorious cream, pink and green variegation. Deciduous.
  • Hakonechloa macra and cultivars Japanese Forest Grass – from 14-30” tall, clumping. Whimsical blades of grass prefer more moist soil. Deciduous.

Bedding Plants
  • Festuca glauca ‘Elijah Blue’ Elijah Blue Fescue – 8” mounds. Unique blue color, neat, evergreen.
  • Miscanthus sinensis and cultivars Silver /Porcupine Grass – 4-9’ tall, clumping. Deciduous, can handle moisture. These magnificent grasses always make a statement in the garden.
  • Pennisetum ‘Hameln’ Hameln Fountain Grass – 3’ tall, clumping. Semi-drought tolerant, dwarf with creamy plumes. Deciduous.

Evergreen Grasses for Sun

  • Carex flagellifera ‘Toffee Twist’: Copper Sedge – 2’ tall, clumping. Needs good drainage. Beautiful bronze color. Drought tolerant.
  • Cortaderia selloana: Pampas Grass – 8’ tall, clumping. Large white feathery plumes, drought tolerant.
  • Helictotrichon sempervirens: Blue Oat Grass - 2’ tall, clumping. Steel blue color, drought tolerant.

Evergreen Grasses for Shade

  • Carex ‘Evergold’ – 16” tall, clumping. Evergreen with cream stripes. Grows in sun as well.
  • Luzula nivea: Snowy Woodrush – 2’ tall, clumping. White fluffy blooms, likes moist soil. Drought tolerant.
  • Ophiopogon ‘Nigrescens’ Black Mondo Grass – 4-6” tall, clumping. Black leaves add striking contrast to any situation.

Rain Garden Grasses

  • Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’ Japanese Sweet Flag – 10” tall, clumping. Evergreen, golden yellow leaves.
  • Juncus effusus: Rush – 5’tall 30” wide. Spiky round evergreen stems.

Running Grasses

  • Arundo donax: Giant Reed Grass – up to 18’ tall. Great for privacy, deciduous.
  • Imperata cylindrical ‘Red Baron’ Japanese Blood Grass – 20” tall, moderate creeper. Needs good drainage, red/purple blades.

Find the Perfect Grasses for your Garden

Grasses are a great choice to add structure, color and movement to the garden.

Work them into any garden style as focal points or accents and you'll be delighted with their graceful ease.