Growing Ornamental Grasses

Category Perennials
Ornamental grasses can add texture and color to your garden. This is a page about growing ornamental grasses.


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Life Cycle:


Planting Time:

spring or summer


height varies from compact mounds to tall screens to spreading mats


full sun to partial shade


all types; most grasses are adaptable to soggy, dry or nutrient poor sites where other plants will not grow


depends on variety

Bloom Time:

depends on grass type


a wide variety of colorful flower spikes including maroon, red, pink, silver, white, yellow or beige.


various textures and colors including greens, blues, reds, whites, yellows and variegated blades; seed heads range from inconspicuous to dramatic feathery plumes



Suggested Use:

fillers, screens, borders, backdrops, ground covers, winter interest, container plants, ornamental accents and dried arrangements

Growing Hints:

Growing requirements vary by grass type. Care should be taken to provide adequate space for growth, without allowing grasses to take over your garden. Grasses should be spaced as far apart from other plants as they are tall. Set plants into prepared holes so that root balls rest just below the surface. Holes should be twice as deep as the root ball. Add compost before filling. Grass should receive 1 inch of water per week throughout the first season. Add mulch around base in the fall to protect roots and shoots from freezing over winter and to provide new nutrients for next season's growth. Fertilize in the spring with a slow release 3-1-2 fertilizer. Common oriental grasses include: Pampas, Purple Fountain Grass, Blue Fescue, Maiden Grass and Zebra Grass.

Pruning Oriental Grasses:

Grasses experiencing winter dieback can be cut back to within a few inches of the ground in early spring before new growth begins. Evergreen grasses generally do not need trimming or pruning.
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July 13, 2010

In the past few years, ornamental grasses have quickly gained popularity among gardeners. One reason is their incredible versatility. Not only do they add height, sound, movement, and visual appeal to garden landscapes, but they also thrive in less-than-ideal soil conditions and require only a minimal amount of maintenance.

Uses for Ornamental Grasses

Ornamental grasses can be used in a variety of ways:

Selecting Grass Varieties

Depending on the growing zone, ornamental grasses can be considered herbaceous perennials or annuals. Before you select ornamental grass varieties for your garden, consider the height and spread of the species, what time of the year it's actively growing, (cool seasons or warm seasons) and its growth habits (forms clumps or rhizomes).

Cool season grasses: Cool season ornamental grasses start to grow early in the spring. They put on the most growth and look their best during the cooler temperatures of spring and fall. Because they are not as drought tolerant as warm season grasses, when summer temperatures start to climb cool season grasses go dormant and turn brown. Once temperature cool, growth resumes. To keep cool season grasses looking good year after year, frequent division is necessary to prevent them from "dying-out" in the center. Examples of cool season grasses include Blue Oat Grass, Tufted Hair Grass, and Fescues.


Warm season grasses: Warm season ornamental grasses don't start to pour on the growth until the weather warms up. Once they get going, they are drought tolerant and maintain active growth even during hot and dry conditions. Unlike cool season grasses, warm season grasses do not require frequent division. To maintain their tidy appearance, cut warm season grasses back to a length of 4-6 inches in the spring. Examples of warm season grasses include Hardy Pampas Grass, Switch Grass and Japanese Silver Grass.

Clumping grasses: Clumping grasses form mounds or clumps. These types of grasses look great mixed in with perennials. They will not become invasive and take over your flowerbeds, but because they gradually grow larger (in diameter) over time, they require division every 2-3 years to keep them looking their best.


Running grasses: Runner grasses (rhizome-forming grasses) spread (sometimes aggressively) by way of underground stems called rhizomes. This growth habit makes them excellent candidates for ground covers, especially on slopes or uneven ground where it is difficult to mow. As ground covers, they help to stabilize soil and prevent erosion. If not being used as a ground cover, these grass types can easily be maintained in containers. When planted in beds and borders they will quickly grow out of control and overrun perennials.


Ornamental grasses can be planted in the spring or the fall. Gardeners in growing zones with cold winters should plant them in the spring so the plants have enough time to establish their roots before winter. Plant them at the same depth they were growing in nursery pots--any deeper and you will risk root rot.

Site: For the best color and greatest blooms, most varieties prefer a site with full sun (or at least 3-5 hours daily). A few species like Sedges, White Striped Ribbon Grass, and Northern Sea Oats tolerate partial shade.

Soil: Ornamental grasses tolerate a wide range of soil conditions. Light, well-drained soil are best, however certain species like Japanese Silver Grass and Switch Grass will grow well in moist, heavy soils.

Safety: Because grasses are highly flammable when dry, they should not be planted close to homes and other buildings where they can pose a fire hazard.


Regular watering is important, especially during the first year when plants are establishing root systems. In general, ornamental grasses are considered drought tolerant and do not need regular watering. The exception is some cool season grasses, which may require extra water to carry them through dry spells.


Unless growth lacks vigor and their appearance suggests otherwise, ornamental grasses don't require much (if any) fertilization. In fact, too much fertilizer (especially nitrogen) will actually result in floppy growth. If your soil is unusually poor or the grasses seem to be losing vigor, applying a slow-release balanced fertilizer (10-10-10) annually in the spring (1/2 cup per 100 square feet should be more than sufficient).


Ornamental grasses can be propagated by seed or through division. Annual grasses are easily grown from seed, but division is the easiest and most convenient way to propagate perennials. (Hybrid grasses will not come true from seed and must be propagated this way.) Division should be done in the spring just as new growth begins, or in the late summer or fall after the growing season.

Winter Protection and Spring Clean Up

Ornamental grasses can be left uncut until spring. Not only does this provide winter interest in the garden as well as shelter to small animals, but leaving the dead, dried foliage helps supply the plant with nutrients when spring growth resumes. In the fall, add 3-4 inches of mulch around the base of the plants to protect roots from freezing. In early spring, cut dried foliage back to about 4-6 inches from the ground to expedite the start of new growth.

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April 12, 2012

Ornamental grasses are versatile garden plants without being fussy about care and maintenance. In the spring and summer they bring color, texture, and an airy, casual appearance to garden spaces.

Ornamental Grasses

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Ask a QuestionHere are the questions asked by community members. Read on to see the answers provided by the ThriftyFun community or ask a new question.

May 9, 2015

We have a beautiful ornamental fountain grass that my husband trimmed too short, at the mulch level. The grass came back this spring, but it's only growing around last year's dead growth leaving an ugly brown center. Can we do anything to save it? If yes, what is the best option and timing?


November 17, 20170 found this helpful

It will come back. (Mine did after it was accidentally brush hogged...) But, it took mine about 3 years to come back. This year, it was over 16 foot high, which was actually taller than what it had ever been before.

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November 17, 20170 found this helpful

It is recommended to cut it back in late fall, so I assume it does grow back.

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Answer this Question...

Q: I think I'm zone 5/6. I would like to plant ornamental grasses near my deck. It's partial sun. Morning and then afternoon. I was told it needs full sun. Any help? Any ideas also where I can get it in smaller pots so it's not so costly?

Hardiness Zone: 5a

Valery from NJ

A: Valery,

Many ornamental grasses grow best in full sun, but there are still options hardy to zone 5 that tolerate partial shade. Keep in mind that most grasses need a minimum of 3 to 5 hours of direct sun per day to flower and present their best color. It really depends on whether you're looking for something that gets off to an early start(cool season grasses), or something that blooms later in the summer (warm season grasses). Also consider height, color and annual or perennial. Here are a few to check into:

Blue Fescue has a gorgeous silvery-blue color (and other colors depending on variety) and grows about 12-18 inches tall and keeps its color through fall.

Feather Reed Grass (Karl Forester) grows from 3-5 feet tall. This grass adds a very architectural element to the garden with vertical green stalks and white to reddish white flowers.

Little Bluestem is a silvery-green color in the summer and turns an orange/red in the fall. It grows to a height of 2-4 feet.

The seed heads of Quaking Grass sound like the tail of a rattle snake when dry and are a great addition to fresh and dried arrangements. It grows to about 12-18 inches tall.

Also consider Idaho Fescue (Siskiyou Blue), Blue Oat Grass, June Grass, Prarie Dropseed and Silky threadgrass.

Many ornamental grasses can be grown successfully from seed (especially annuals), which is always cheaper than buying them in pots. I would start with posting on the seed exchange and then search Ornamental Grass Seed online.



By (Guest Post)
March 31, 20060 found this helpful

Hi, I live in zone 7 and have ornamental grasses and they have thrived in the shade. ginny

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By (Guest Post)
April 2, 20060 found this helpful

I live in zone 5 and my ornamental grass is located in the shade. Grows nicely with no problems. Have you tried (or interested in) using seeds from the nursery/store?

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July 21, 2016

I planted red fountain grasses in a pot and it has not grown tall like it should have. All the other plants in the pot are doing fine. Did I plant the grass too deep?


March 12, 20170 found this helpful

I have never seen in grown in a container before, so I am not sure if it could be root bound Mine doesn't seem to reach its full height until later in fall, where it gets to be around 4 to 6 feet tall. It needs full sun. Since it gets so tall, it would need deep roots so that its not top heavy, which makes me wonder if its just not happy in a container. Of course, there may also be smaller versions of it that I am not aware of, that you may have.

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October 3, 2014

Can I harvest the seed from my zebra grass to spread on a hillside? I am unsure if these plants' seeds are harvestable in this manner. Thank you.

By Linda


December 6, 20170 found this helpful

You can, but its hard to do it outside because you have to sow them on top the soil and birds get them. Its best to collect the seeds and start them inside. Then you can move them out to where you want them in the spring.

I have one plant that is now over 15 feet tall. I fertilize mine well, and it expands so you can also divide the plants.

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Home and Garden Gardening PerennialsJanuary 26, 2013
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