Plants Questions

What Are the Best Ornamental Grasses to Grow Outdoors?

There are many different types of ornamental grass that gardeners love, so choosing the perfect one for your garden might be a bit of a challenge.

Ornamental grasses are best used to create borders. You can also use them to beautify your landscape and even to hide unattractive areas. If you are passionate about garden design, you can use different types of grass to add texture and variety to your garden.

While ornamental grass can also be grown in containers, it reaches its full potential outdoors. Despite its name, ornamental grass can provide more than just aesthetic benefits.

There are many different types of ornamental grass that gardeners love, so choosing the perfect one for your garden might be a bit of a challenge. In the following article, we will discuss some of the benefits of decorative grass.

We will also give you some tips for growing ornamental grass and last but not least, we have put together a comprehensive list of the best ornamental grasses that you can grow outdoors.

Benefits of Ornamental Grasses

  • You can enjoy them all year round – While most decorative grasses shine during the spring, their rich foliage lasts all year long. Most grasses change their foliage colours over each season. Unless you live in an area with very harsh winters, you can enjoy these grasses even during winter.
  • Ornamental grasses are low maintenance – Ornamental grasses require little to no maintenance. Unlike lawn grass which needs an abundance of water, these grasses are drought tolerant. They are rarely bothered by pests and diseases and they don’t usually require pesticides or fertilizers. The only maintenance that they do require is the occasional pruning and deadheading.
  • Ornamental grasses are good for the environment – The rich foliage of ornamental grasses provides shelter for a wide variety of insects and small mammals. They also have complex root systems and they can bring up nutrients from the deeper layers of the soil, thus helping surrounding plants. Moreover, their complex roots help them grow even on slopes. This makes these plants very effective in preventing soil erosion.

Tips for Growing Ornamental Grasses

Since ornamental grasses come from different climates and habitats, they can also have different needs. However, some basic tips apply to most, if not all ornamental grasses.

  • Planting time: Ornamental grasses should be planted in spring or autumn. In fall you can plant them directly outdoors. In spring, you can start them indoors, and move them outdoors once the danger of the first frost has passed.
  • Where to plant ornamental grasses: Most decorative grasses are sun-loving plants, but some grasses enjoy growing in partial shade. Sun requirements differ for each species, so it is best to check the needs of each plant before choosing its planting spot.
  • Ornamental grass soil requirements: Most ornamental grasses enjoy well-drained soil. This is why they grow well in raised beds that provide natural drainage. Ordinary garden soil will do just fine for most of these grasses.
  • Companions: Grasses and perennials grow well together and they are a great combination if you want to create a wild prairie look. However, bear in mind that some grasses can be a tad invasive. You may want to avoid invasive plants that can harm the rest of your garden plants. To be on the safe side be careful when growing Pampas Grass, Maidengrass, Ribbon Grass, and Fountain Grass.

Best Ornamental Grasses

When choosing different types of ornamental grasses, consider the top period of their foliage. Ideally, you should combine different types of grasses, to enjoy their beauty all year round. Don’t forget to also consider their sun and water requirements.

1. Feather Reed Grass

This grass is great for adding verticality to your garden. It can reach a top height of 180 cm. It takes about 3-4 years to mature and reach its top size. Feather Reed Grass thrives in USDA zones 4 to 9. This plant grows well when it gets full sun exposure, but it is highly adaptable and it can also grow in partial shade. It has thin green foliage, and long, gold, feather-like blooms. Its foliage also turns gold in winter, and its feather blooms maintain their appearance all year long.

Feather Reed Grass
Feather Reed Grass

Plant this grass in autumn if you want it to grow in spring. Once it sprouts, you will need to water it regularly until it matures. Mature plants have minimum water requirements. They are also very hardy when it comes to pests and diseases. Aside from occasional watering, the only maintenance that this plant needs is spring pruning.

2. Blue Fescue

This evergreen plant produces tall stems in late spring, topped with gold feather-like blooms. Its base features tight mounds of long, thin leaves. It grows in USDA hardiness zones 4-9. While it prefers well-drained soil and full sun exposure, it can also adapt to moister areas with partial sun exposure. It can even adapt to heavy clay soils.

Blue Fescue
Blue Fescue

This plant looks great when planted in clusters along a border. It can also look planted individually, and it looks particularly good in a rock garden. Mature plants should be pruned during the spring to encourage the growth of new foliage. Spring is also a great time to divide this plant. The division is the best way to propagate this plant since seeds are often sterile and won’t germinate. You should also deadhead and do some light pruning in the fall when the plant gets a rather untidy appearance.

3. Fountain Grass

This plant grows in a mound shape, with cascading leaves that give it a fountain-like appearance. The beauty of mound-forming plants is that they are not invasive. They can be planted individually or in clusters, and they suit most garden designs. Fountain grass looks great surrounded by rocks at its base, but it also grows well alongside perennials. It produces small golden flowers that bear a small resemblance to foxtails. The flowers bloom in late summer and can last until late fall. Even though the flowers are very interesting, it is the rich foliage that gives this plant its charm.

Fountain Grass
Fountain Grass

There are several types of fountain grasses to choose from, with sizes that range from 30 cm to 90 cm. This plant thrives in well-drained soil with plenty of sun exposure. Spring is the best time for planting it, but it can be planted in any season. Early spring is also the time for cutting back the foliage of mature plants. This is a drought-tolerant plant, so it will do just fine if you only water it once a week, or once every couple of weeks.

4. Mexican Feather Grass

This plant is suitable for USDA zones 7-10. Gardeners appreciate it for its rich foliage that sways at the smallest of winds. Its feather-like flowers add to its delicate beauty. It can reach a top height of 60 cm. It prefers loamy, slightly acidic soil, in full sun or partial sun exposure. The flowers bloom in mid-summer and maintain their beauty throughout fall. The flowers start green, but they turn to a golden brown when they mature, and they fade into a tan shade.

Mexican Feather Grass
Mexican Feather Grass

Caring for this grass is relatively easy. It doesn’t need much water and it self-seeds. In some areas, it can be considered an invasive species, and even a fire hazard. However, it can easily be contained in most parts of the world. It might even need an occasional fertilizer in environments that are different from its natural habitat. You can grow this plant from seeds, starting the seeds indoors in early spring. Plant it outside when the seedlings are sturdy enough, and propagate it through division when the plant matures.

5. Zebra grass

This perennial is native to Japan, but it can grow in most countries in USDA zones 5 to 9. It can reach a top height of 2 meters, so it is great to use as a green screen or background. It can also be planted on the last row of flower beds. It’s highly appreciated for its variegated striped leaves. During the summer it features copper flowers. The flowers turn gold during fall, but the plants maintain their shape throughout winter. As such, this is the type of plant that can provide interest all year round. Technically this plant dies in winter, even if its foliage maintains its shape. Nonetheless, it comes back to life in spring, so you should cut back its foliage to encourage new growth.

Zebra grass
Zebra grass

This plant can grow in any type of soil, provided that it gets plenty of sun exposure. You should water it 2-3 times per week during its first growing season and reduce the watering sessions to once a week once the plant fully matures. It has a very exotic appearance, which makes it suitable for tropical or modern gardens. While it gets along well with most perennials, it looks best when planted as an individual, to create a focal point in certain areas.

6. Little Bluestem

The silvery-blue stems of this plant make it one of the most popular ornamental grasses. It is a prairie plant, but its appearance makes it suitable for numerous garden designs. It grows in USDA zones 2 to 10. It can reach a top height of 1 meter. It takes a while to emerge in spring, but it continues to grow until the first frost. Its flowers appear in the summer, featuring blue, gold, or white inflorescence.

Little Bluestem
Little Bluestem

Little Bluestem plants are very easy to grow and care for. Simply sow the seeds in spring and water them 2-3 times a week during the first growing season. Once it matures, it can survive extensive drought periods, but it is best to water it regularly to keep it from entering a dormant stage.

This is a self-seeding plant and it can be a tad invasive. It has fluffy seed heads which can disperse all over the garden at the slightest breeze. To prevent this from happening, simply cut off the seed heads before they mature.

7. New Zealand Flax

This plant is appreciated for its deep red, sometimes purple foliage. It differs from most ornamental grasses because it has wider leaves. It can reach a top height of 1 meter and it grows best in full sun or partial shade in USDA zones 8 to 10. Newer cultivators can also feature yellow, pink, or bronze leaves. During the summer, it produces tubular yellow or red flowers. The flowers are rich in nectar and they attract pollinators such as bees and butterflies, and other beneficial insects.

Phormium Tenax
Read our Guide to Phormium Tenax

For the best results, plant the New Zealand Flax in rich, moist but well-drained soil. The best time to plant New Zealand Flax is during the spring. The plant easily self-seeds, but you can deadhead the flowers before they are spent to prevent self-seeding. You can also propagate the plant through division in early spring. It needs about 1 inch of water per week and it doesn’t require much feeding. An annual compost session should be enough to enrich the soil and help it retain moisture. This grass is susceptible to mealybugs. It is particularly susceptible to various pests if you grow it in containers.

8. Dwarf pampas grass

This beautiful grass with fluffy white feathery flowers grows in USDA zones 6-10. Dwarf pampas grass can reach a top height of 2 meters and it is smaller than regular pampas. Its size makes it suitable for the back of a border. Keep in mind that it can get a tad invasive, so plant it in a place where its roots can’t spread too much. It needs full sun exposure and well-drained soil. Its leaves are grey and have serrated edges. You can enjoy its blooms in late summer or early autumn. In warm environments, it can maintain its leaves and flowers throughout winter.

Pampas Grass
Read our Guide to Pampas Grass

This is a very sturdy plant but it does require a bit of maintenance. A layer of mulch should be applied at the base of the plant each year. It also benefits from feeding in early spring, and it reacts well to 10-10-10 fertilizers. Spring is also a good time to cut back the old foliage to encourage new growth. You can propagate it through division. It is susceptible to certain pests, so check regularly for aphids or mites.

In Conclusion

As you can see, growing ornamental grasses is easy especially since most of them have similar needs. Ornamental grasses are appreciated for their foliage, but their blooms can turn basic grasses into focal points. Overall, the greatest benefit of ornamental grasses is that they are very versatile. Their size and rich foliage add texture and verticality to a garden, and they can be integrated into most garden designs.

Are you growing ornamental grasses in your outdoor area? Share your experience in the comments below!

Miruna is an experienced content writer with a passion for gardening. She is the proud owner of an outdoor rose garden and an indoor collection of tiny succulents. She bought her first succulent 10 years ago - an adorable Echeveria Setosa. Now she owns more than 100 succulents and cacti of different colors, shapes, and sizes. Miruna is a versatile writer and, as you might have guessed, her favorite topic is gardening. Contact miruna@gardenbeast.com

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