Ideas & Inspiration

Types of Ornamental Grass

How to Select Ornamental Grasses
Ornamental grass in a container on a porch

Location. Ornamental grasses like full sun and are tolerant of most soil conditions as long as it’s not too wet.


Solution. Ornamental grasses are landscape problem-solvers. Certain varieties have characteristics like deer- and pest-resistance. Some are salt-tolerant, others make effective windbreaks and erosion control. To learn more, read plant tags and check the Garden Center online.


Selection. Will this be a single, spectacular grass, or a mass planting? Consider the height of the grass and its impact on the landscape. For example, pampas grass is a lifetime commitment. Once established, it is difficult to relocate, but in the right place, it is a low-maintenance, high-impact feature. A mass planting of pink Muhly grass, with its clouds of rose-colored blooms, will be a sight you will anticipate all summer long. Dwarf varieties like Little Bunny dwarf fountain grass give year-round interest in a perennial bed.


Containment. Ornamental grasses grow in either a clumping or creeping habit. Creepers grow from rhizomes, which shoot out runners. This is desirable if you have a large area to cover, but if you do not, pay careful attention to the plant tag. Grasses also make excellent container plants, adding the thriller element to fall containers.

Types of Ornamental Grasses
Pink Muhly grass in bloom in a garden

Various ornamental grasses thrive in the different climates throughout the country. Here are some varieties that will grow in your region.


Pacific Northwest:

  • Carex (select areas)
  • Purple Fountain Grass (select areas)
  • N. California/Inland and S. California/Inland
  • Pink Muhly Grass
  • Little Bunny Grass
  • Hameln Fountain Grass
  • Purple Fountain Grass
  • Blue Festuca 


Southwestern Deserts:

  • Hameln Fountain Grass
  • Purple Fountain Grass
  • Switchgrass
  • Maiden Grass
  • Zebra Grass
  • Pampas Grass
  • Variegatus Grass 


Western Mountains:

  • Calamagrostis (Karl Foerster)


Northern Midwest:

  • Hameln Fountain Grass
  • Switchgrass
  • Maiden Grass
  • Zebra Grass
  • Feather Reed Grass


Central Midwest/Middle Atlantic/New England:

  • Pink Muhly Grass (except for New England)
  • Little Bunny Grass
  • Hameln Fountain Grass
  • Switchgrass
  • Maiden Grass
  • Zebra Grass
  • Feather Reed Grass 
  • Variegatus


Coastal & Tropical South:

  • Pink Muhly Grass (select areas)
  • Hameln Fountain Grass (select areas)
  • Purple Fountain Grass
  • Maiden Grass (select areas)
  • Mexican Feather Grass (select areas)


South Florida:

  • Purple Fountain Grass


Lower South:

  • Pink Muhly Grass
  • Little Bunny Grass
  • Hameln Fountain Grass
  • Maiden Grass


Middle South:

  • Pink Muhly Grass
  • Little Bunny Grass
  • Hameln Fountain Grass
  • Miscanthus (Adagio/Morning Light)
  • Maiden Grass


Upper South:

  • Pink Muhly Grass
  • Little Bunny Grass
  • Hameln Fountain Grass
  • Purple Fountain Grass (select areas)
  • Switchgrass (select areas)
  • Maiden Grass
  • Pampas Grass (select areas)
How to Plant and Care for Ornamental Grasses
Gardener cutting ornamental grass

Before planting, work a balanced fertilizer into the soil. After the plants are established, fertilize every spring with a slow-release fertilizer. 


Water thoroughly twice a week until established, then reduce watering to once a week. After time, rainfall is sufficient for maintenance if you take care to help out in times of drought.


Established ornamental grasses are generally drought tolerant. However, if winter provided little rain in your garden, spring is a great time to deeply water your ornamental grasses. Using a garden hose, let the water run for a few minutes at the base of the plant.


Keep weeds down and retain moisture in the soil by adding 2 to 3 inches of mulch around the base of ornamental grasses. Be sure the mulch does not touch the base crown of the plant. 

How to Cut Back Ornamental Grass
Gardener dividing ornamental grass

Keeping the attractive, dried foliage of ornamental grasses through winter provides birds with warm shelter and food while serving to insulate the plant during winter. When you're ready to prune, select a warm day in late winter or early spring to cut back ornamental grasses.


1. Bundle. Make easy work of trimming by bundling your plant with twine. You’ll want to tie the twine tightly about halfway up the plant.

2. Cut. Once bundled, use hedge shears or pruning shears to cut back the ornamental grass stems to about 4 to 6 inches from the base of the plant. Don’t forget to wear your gardening gloves to protect your hands.

3. Compost. Because you tied your bundle, it will be easy to carry your bundle to the compost bin. It’s as simple as that. No compost bin? Just use landscape leaf bags for the yard debris.

How to Divide Ornamental Grasses
Container with ornamental grass

Every few years, clumping grasses will need to be divided. This can be done to propagate or to clean up plants that are dying in the center. If you notice that your ornamental grasses seem too large for an area or dead spots appear in the center of your plant, it’s wise to divide.


Early spring is a great time to divide before new growth starts. After cutting back the clump, just dig it up and use a serrated garden knife or sharp spade to cut it in half. Replant in another area of your garden.

Ornamental grasses add drama and texture to your yard, from containers on your porch to plumes at the back of your perennial bed.