ornamental grasses

Building a BETTER Grass Garden

Ornamental grasses can be an important addition to your landscape, since they are deer-resistant (as well as groundhog, bunny etc resistant), not too hard to locate in the nursery trade and provide multi-season interest. You can find grass species that are tall, spiky, soft, clump-formers, spreaders, some with colored foliage, some with variegated foliage, and so on. They are fairly easy to take care of, as long as you have a good set of loppers to cut some of the larger ones back as they grow bigger.

Ornamental grass can function as an exclamation point in the design.

Hermannshof Planting Beds with autumn grasses

Ornamental grasses are the matrix in a matrix planting.

Roy Diblik planting design

Ornamental grasses can even add an almost formal element; a very modern look as seen in these views of Piet Oudolf’s design for the Scampston Hall Walled Garden


Ornamental grass for winter interest.



Ornamental grasses have deep roots, which promote healthy soil.

To be more successful, your grass garden should have a mixture of cool-season and warm-season ornamental grasses. Cool season grasses thrive when temperatures are between 60 - 75 degrees F. They start to grow in early spring and may remain semi-evergreen over the winter. They’re happy again in late fall, but in the heat of the summer they tend to go dormant and may even brown-out - something to consider as far as placement within the planted border. Warm-season grasses don’t even break dormancy until the ground temperature is above 65, and thrive when temperatures are between 80 - 95 degrees F. So warm season grasses are late starters - especially in some of the cool springs we’ve had recently. If the warm-season grasses are just sitting there doing nothing, your matrix planting may look empty and not make much sense until summer.

If you include both types of ornamental grasses, you’ll have fresh new grasses in the spring as well as mature grasses and grass flowers in the summer and fall.

WHO’s WHO of Ornamental Grasses:

Cool Season Grasses:

Briza media, Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’, Calamagrostis canadensis, Chasmanthium latifolium, Deschampsia caespitosa, Deschampsia flexuosa, Elymus spp., All Fescues, Helictotrichon sempervirens, Molinia, Nasella tenuissima, Sesleria spp., Stipa spp.

Warm Season Grasses:

Andropogon spp, Bouteloua spp, Calamagrostis brachytricha, Eragrostis spp, Hakonechloa spp, Miscanthus spp, Muhlenbergia spp, Panicum spp, Pennisetum spp. Sporobolus heterolepsis, Schizachyrium spp, Sorghastrum nutans