Ornamental Grasses Guide

Pampas ornamental grass

Not all lawns need to be filled with straight grass or decorative flowers. You have plenty of options to make your lawn stand out. Ever see a yard filled with long grasses of different colors and textures? These are ornamental grasses, much different from the typical short green grass you spend the weekends mowing.

Spice up your yard. Ornamental grasses are the perfect landscaping accent.

What is an Ornamental Grass?

landscape pampas ornamental grass

Grass Gardens at Kew Gardens / David Hawgood / CC BY-SA 2.0

Ornamental grasses are the prettier and more aesthetically interesting grasses beyond the typical blades that adorn most homes. They grow longer, have different needs, and they come in a variety of colors.

You’ll often find ornamental grasses as one element of a larger landscape plan rather than growing wildly like typical turf. They won’t be the single thing surrounding the property, though that may be the case in the wild.

Think of your property as a blank mural. Decorative grasses are just one of the many creative expressions that make up the whole piece. They’re planted with purpose and positioned for a specific effect, as well as their needs.

purple ornamental grass field

Liriope / Alison Young / Wallpaper Flare

Types of Ornamental Grasses

There are four main families of ornamental grass:

  • True grasses
  • Rushes
  • Sedges
  • Reeds

Each family has too many subcategories to break down one by one. So, let’s look at some examples based on height. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it’s a great jumping-off point. All these decorative grasses grow well in the U.S.

If you want a tall perennial ornamental grass that does well in the shade, choose maiden grass, tufted hair, or pampas grass. You also need to consider the climate. If you live in a colder region with harsh winters, you may want to avoid planting pampas grass.

rebeca jesus indiangrass ornamental grass field

Indiangrass / Rebeca Jesus / Wallpaper Flare

Small-sized ornamental grasses (1-3 feet)


A perennial, this can grow taller than 3 feet and offers a touch of autumn color to your property. It tends to thrive in more well-drained and low elevation areas and also helps loosen compacted soil. This is an excellent ornamental grass to grow in full sun and in areas with higher temps and drought. Moderate watering is best for Indiangrass.


This gorgeous grass comes in two forms: clumping, and spreading. It’s hearty, able to grow in full sun and deep shade, sand or clay, and endures drought and heat. Remember: It needs well-drained soil and doesn’t do well when constantly wet at the roots.

close-up of red head ornamental grass

Red head grass / Manuel M. V. / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Mid-Range ornamental grasses (4-5 feet)

Standing ovation little bluestem

This ornamental grass grows best in full sun and is very drought-tolerant once established. It has a knack for growing in poorer soils, and you can leave it standing in the winter, and cut it back in the early spring. It’s a great grass to add more color to the autumn as it flowers in the late summer through the fall.

Red head fountain grass

Red head fountain grass may remind you of cattails around a pond. It’s perennial and grows in dense clumps with arching leaves. It grows the best in full sun but doesn’t mind some shade. Unlike cattails, it enjoys dry soils and is quite drought-tolerant once established. It can grow in moist soil – just make sure it’s well-drained.

close-up of pampas grass stalk
Pampas grass / Pxfuel

Large ornamental grasses (6-10 feet)

Pink feather pampas grass

Quite the theatrical and grand ornamental grass, pink feather pampas grass has huge plumes frequently used for interior design. It stands through the winter and is eco-friendly and drought-resistant – perfect for a low-maintenance lawn. It also brings birds to the garden. Pampas needs pruning in late winter or early spring. This is also a good time to dry out the tops and decorate inside with last year’s pampas.

Gold breeze miscanthus

A type of maiden grass, gold breeze miscanthus is one of the most popular types of ornamental grasses. It looks great outdoors and can also be used for interior decorating. You’ll need to cut it back in the early spring to make room for new growth. The plant does best in full sun and moist but well-drained soils.

Caring for Your Ornamental Grasses

Ornamental grasses run the gamut of seasons, styles, colors, and required care.

Colors and seasons

Warm-season ornamental grasses tend to turn different hues as the weather gets colder, so that’s the time to trim them back. If you’re choosing an ornamental grass for indoor decorating, fall is a great time to dry out the heads and bring them inside. You will want to cut back these grasses in the fall or mid to late spring.

Ornamental grasses that thrive in the colder months can be left alone until early spring. If you prune and trim them outside of the proper season, it can permanently damage and sometimes kill the plant.

Divide ornamental grasses for growth

You can save money and enjoy more plants by dividing your ornamental grasses. It’s a way to encourage fresh growth and relocate part of the plant to a new area. It’s crucial to do this in the proper season.

  • Warm-weather grasses can be divided in spring or mid-summer.
  • Colder-weather grasses can be divided in spring or early fall.
  • Evergreen grasses can only be divided in the spring.

Like people, each ornamental grass has its preferences when it comes to food and water. Some will need more fertilizer than others. Some will require more watering to serve as good ground covers.

How to choose ornamental grasses for your yard

Choosing the ornamental grasses that will adorn your property is an exciting process. It’s an opportunity to express yourself and make your yard stand out from the others through unique ground covers. If you’re stumped about which ornamental grasses are best for your lawn and where they would look best, call a landscaping pro.

One of the toughest landscaping decisions? Choosing the ornamental grass varieties that complement each other and your yard.

Main image credit: Pampas Feather Reed Grass/skeeze / Pixabay

Phillip Forsgren

Phillip Forsgren

Quirky, corny, and a little too invested in research. Phillip Forsgren grew up laboring over book reports and, as a result, became a freelance writer.