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Ornamental Grasses and Grass-like Plants

Ornamental grasses and grass-like plants are valued in home landscapes for their hardiness, ease of care, dramatic appearance, and the wide variety of colors, textures, and sizes available.

Ornamental grasses are valued additions in landscape designs.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2017 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Types of Grasses

Ornamental grasses refers to both true grasses and plants that have a grass-like appearance, such as sedges, that are used for similar purposes in gardens.

Most ornamental grasses are perennials, living for two or more years. Annual grasses live for only one growing season because of their natural growth habit or they are not hardy in our climate.

Grasses have growth habits that are either clumping or spreading. Spreading grasses expand rapidly by aboveground or underground stems. Care must be taken in planting spreading grasses as they may as they may overtake desirable plantings. Clumping or bunch grasses grow in a clump that gradually increase in diameter.

Most ornamental grasses planted in the South are classified as cool or warm season plants.

Cool season grasses begin new growth in fall or winter and bloom in spring or early summer. They will go dormant or decline in appearance during the summer heat. Most ornamental grasses for the South are warm season growers. They grow rapidly during spring and summer, bloom in late summer or fall, and are dormant through the winter.

Height

Ornamental grasses vary in height from those that reach-up to 15 feet tall to lower growing grasses that are used as ground covers. Grass forms vary from low mounds to fountains and tall verticals.

Ornamental Features

The flower heads of many grasses are very showy. Flowers vary in size, color, and texture. Flowers and seed heads last for weeks or months, and many varieties provide interest throughout the winter.

Foliage provides additional interest with a range of fine to coarse textured leaf blades, softly arching or upright forms, and deep green, blue, red or purple, yellow, or variegated leaf colors. Many grasses have good fall color, changing to golden yellow, orange, red, or purple before fading to tan or straw hues in the winter.

Grasses also give interest to the garden in ways that few other plants can. They sway easily in the wind, adding the appeal of movements and rustling sounds to the landscape. Their rapid growth and changing appearance throughout the year add seasonal interest.

Landscape Use

Because grasses are such a varied group, they can be incorporated for many different landscape purposes. Grasses with a striking-growth habit, foliage color, or flowers can be used as accent plants. They may be substituted in place of smaller shrubs, in perennial borders, and used in container plantings. In mass, some grasses can stabilize hillside soils for erosion control.

Growing Conditions

Grasses are a large group, with varying needs, but nearly all share some growing preferences. Most ornamental grasses must have well-drained soil and full sun. Well-established sun loving grasses are drought tolerant. Planting them in raised beds will help to ensure good drainage. Ordinary garden soil is adequate for most grasses. Some grass-like sedges and rushes will thrive in moist or even wet soil.

A small of number of grasses and grass-like plants will grow in part to full shade. A few examples of shade tolerant grasses are northern sea oat grass, Japanese forest grass, and sedges.

Planting

While many perennials prefer fall planting in South Carolina, the warm season ornamental grasses will do best if planted in spring. Cool season grasses can be planted in fall. Plant grasses as far apart as they will grow in height at maturity.

Ornamental grasses are usually available grown in containers. If plants are pot-bound, loosen the roots around the bottom and sides of the root ball. Soil preparation depends on the type of grass. Many grasses will not thrive well in amended soils, while others will grow with additions. It is important to know what each type of grass requires in order to plant it properly. Spread the roots out and refill the planting hole, firming the soil in around the plants roots to avoid air pockets. Be sure the crown of the plant (the point where roots and top join) is even with the soil surface. A good rule is to keep the soil level the same as it was in the container.

Water plants thoroughly after planting to settle the soil around the roots. Pay close attention to watering the first few weeks after planting. While many mature grasses are drought tolerant, they must have a well-established root system to withstand dry periods.

For more information, refer to HGIC 1052, Planting Shrubs Correctly.

Maintenance

Watering: Once established, moisture needs vary by grass species, soil type, temperature, and other factors. Most ornamental grasses will grow best with at least 1 inch of water per week from rain or irrigation. Drip irrigation is an excellent way to water grasses. It saves water by applying it directly to the roots and reduces the chance of foliar diseases.

Fertilization: Most ornamental grasses need very little fertilizer. It is best to base any fertilizer applications on the results of a soil test. Excessive nitrogen in the soil can lead to disease susceptibility, overly vigorous growth, and weak stems that will cause the grass to fall over.

Cutting Back: Cut back grasses before the new season’s growth starts. Since many grasses are attractive in the garden during winter, cutting them back is usually done in late winter or early spring. Cut stems to a few inches above ground level for best appearance. There are a number of ways to cut back grasses. They may be cut back by hand with pruners or hedge shears, electric hedge shears, or a weed eater with a brush-cutting blade.

Some evergreen grasses, such as sedges (Carex) or sweet flag (Acorus) do not recover quickly from being cut back. Comb the foliage of these plants with gloved hands in spring to remove old leaves.

Dividing: Most grasses should be divided every 3 to 4 years. If ornamental grasses are not divided, they will eventually become thin or die out in the center. It is best to divide grasses while they are a manageable size. Overgrown grasses can be incredibly difficult to dig and divide.

Dig and divide warm season grasses during early spring, just before new growth starts. Divide cool-season grasses in early fall.

Most grasses have tough, vigorous root systems and may have to be divided with a shovel, saw, or ax. Hose off soil to make the roots easier to work with, then separate and replant the vigorous growth on the outer edges of the clump. Replant promptly and never let the roots dry out. For more information, refer to HGIC 1150, Dividing Perennials.

Problems

Ornamental grasses have few insect or disease problems. Rust occasionally attacks some cool season grasses, but most plants recover quickly after being cut back. Anthracnose is occasionally a problem. Diseases are most common on plants in improper growing conditions, with low light, poor air circulation, or excessive fertilization.

A few grasses, such as running or prolific seeding non-native grasses, can become pests if planted in the wrong location. To prevent running grasses from getting out of control, confine the root system in a deep bottomless container. Non-native grasses that seed vigorously should be used with care, especially near natural or wetland areas.

Species & Cultivars of Ornamental Grasses

Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii): This tall native grass grows from 3 to 8 feet tall in a narrow clump. The leaves are blue-green in summer and turn a rust color in fall. It needs full sun and prefers moist to average soil but is very drought tolerant once established.

  • ‘Lord Snowden’ is a clump-forming 4 to 8 feet tall grass with large, powder blue foliage. It grows best in full sun and is drought tolerant. The summer blooms are in shades of orange, red, and tan. USDA Zones: 4 to 10
  • ‘Red October’ has narrow deep green leaves with red streaks. In the fall, the red hue changes to burgundy, and after the first frost, the foliage turns candy-apple red. When in bloom, it reaches a height of 5 to 6 feet. USDA Zones: 3 to 9

Side Oats Gramma (Bouteloua curtipendula): Side Oats Gramma is a beautiful native grass that will grow in sandy to clay soils in sun and is drought tolerant. The green foliage has a mounding growth habit and will reach a height of 2 to 3 feet. The long bloom stalks have purple to red tinged spikelets. USDA Zones: 4 to 9

Blue Gamma (Bouteloua gracilis): This native grass is also commonly called mosquito grass, as the seed heads resemble mosquito larvae. The flowers float above the green foliage. This low growing grass will mature at ½ to 1 foot in height. It grows in full sun and is drought tolerant. USDA Zones: 3 to 9

  • ‘Blonde Ambition’ (PP22048) has blue-green foliage and matures to a height of 1 foot. The 2½ to 3 foot tall horizontal seed heads will first be chartreuse and turn to blonde as they age. USDA Zones: 4 to 9

Feather Reed Grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora): This cool season clump forming evergreen grass grows best in the upper Piedmont. It is a narrow, upright grass that reaches 2 to 4 feet tall with slim, tall flower heads in spring that turn golden tan in summer. These grasses will grow best in sun and is drought tolerant.

  • ‘Avalanche’ is easily grown in medium to wet soils in full sun and will grow between 3 to 5 feet tall. It has green and white variegated foliage. USDA Zones: 4 to 8
  • ‘Karl Foerster’ has a strong upright growth habit. It grows 3 to 5 feet tall and prefers rich, consistently moist soils. USDA Zones: 4 to 7
  • ‘Overdam’ has white striped foliage turning pink in cool weather. This variety will grow 2½ to 3 feet tall and must have part shade and moist soil. USDA Zones: 5 to 7

Korean Feather Reed Grass (Calamagrostis brachytricha): The arching dark leaves form a broad, mounded clump 3 to 4 feet tall that are covered by tall pink plumes in fall. This species tolerates hot summers better than C. acutiflora. It will grow best in the South in light or part shade, and moist well-drained soil. USDA Zones: 4 to 9

Upland River Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium): This native grass thrives in shade. In the fall, it bears oval flowers that dangle from 3 to 4 foot tall curving stems that are prized for dried flower arrangements. It can grow in sun to shade and prefers moist, rich soil, but tolerates drought once it is established. As it self-seeds abundantly, plant it in an appropriate area. This species is sometimes called northern sea oats. USDA Zones: 5 to 10

Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechola macra): A shade loving, deciduous (i.e., loses its leaves in the winter) perennial grass that forms dense, cascading mounds. It grows best in humus rich, well-drained soils in part shade with medium moisture. Depending on the variety, the height ranges from 1 to 1½ feet. USDA Zones: 5-9

  • ‘Aureola’ has green leaves with golden yellow striping. It grows 15 inches tall.
  • ‘Fubuki’ is similar to ‘Aureola’ but has green and white variegated foliage. It will reach a height of 14 inches.

Muhly Grass or Hairgrass (Muhlenbergia capillaris): This showy native grass has clouds of tiny flowers that form a pinkish-purple or white haze appearing in October and fading to tan through the winter. Clumps of very fine, blue-green to gray-green foliage rise to 2 to 3 feet tall. It is best planted in full sun, and once it is established, becomes extremely drought tolerant. USDA Zones: 6 to 9

  • ‘White Cloud’ is a cultivar of the native Muhlenbergia. The airy seed heads are bright white to ivory and blooms shortly after the native Pink Muhly.

Bamboo Muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa): This ornamental grass has arching bamboo-like stems with billowy light green foliage and grows 5 to 6 feet tall. Bamboo muhly is an excellent non-invasive substitute for bamboo. It grows best in full sun and is drought resistant once established. USDA Zones: 7 to 10

Mexican Feather Grass (Nessella tenuissima): The exceptionally fine textured evergreen leaves of this grass will grow in a weeping mound. The delicate flower spikes appear in summer. Mexican Feather Grass prefers sun and dry soil; therefore, avoid excessive water once established. USDA Zones: 5 to 10

Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum): This beautiful native grass has many varieties with showy flowers, excellent fall color, and winter interest. Switchgrass prefers full sun in moist to wet soil, but is highly adaptable. It reseeds occasionally, but is not invasive.

  • ‘Cloud Nine’ has light blue foliage growing 5 to 7 feet tall with large airy flower heads that rise another 1 to 2 feet in mid- to late summer. It is easily grown in average, medium to wet soils in full sun to part shade. USDA Zones: 5 to 9
  • ‘Heavy Metal’ has an upright, narrow growth habit with airy flowers and grows 4 to 5 feet tall. The metallic blue foliage turns yellow in fall. USDA Zones: 5 to 9
  • ‘Shenandoah’ has deep green leaves tipped with purple in summer and turns a burgundy purple in fall. Flowers are reddish pink. This variety grows to only 3 to 4 feet tall. Both this and the following cultivar are excellent substitutes for the invasive Japanese blood grass, a type of cogongrass. USDA Zones: 5 to 9
  • ‘Rotstrahlbusch’ is similar to ‘Shenandoah’ with a more upright and narrow form. It matures between 4 to 5 feet in height. USDA Zones: 5 to 9

Fountain Grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides): Beautiful, cream to pink, bottlebrush shaped flower heads appear from mid to late summer above fine, arching mounded foliage 3 to 4 feet tall. It prefers sun and moisture, but needs well-drained soil. Fountain grass reseeds and may be invasive into natural areas.

  • ‘Hameln’ is compact, growing to only 2 feet tall. It performs best in the Piedmont. USDA Zones: 4 to 9
  • ‘Little Bunny’ grows to only 1 foot tall in full sun to part shade. USDA Zones: 5-9
  • ‘Moudry’ has striking black flower spikes in late summer to early fall. It grows 2 to 3 feet tall. This variety reseeds abundantly, but usually does not come true from seed. USDA Zones: 5-9

Chinese Fountain Grass (Pennisetum orientale): The soft pink or white flower spikes appear from late spring through fall above blue green foliage only 1½ feet tall. It spreads slowly by rhizomes, but rarely reseeds.

  • ‘Karley Rose’ is easily grown in average, medium moisture, well drained soils in full sun, and will get 2 to 3 feet tall. The pink flower spikes appear in the summer. USDA Zones: 5-8
  • ‘Tall Tails’ grows 4 to 5 feet tall in full sun with average, medium moisture, well-drained soil. It has showy, pinkish-white flower spikes from June to September. USDA Zones: 5 to 8

Annual Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum): Grown as an annual throughout South Carolina, it will get 4 to 5 feet tall by summers end. The striking purplish pink flowers are produced continuously through summer. Fountain grass grows best in full sun and moist, well-drained, fertile soil, and is popular for use in mixed container gardens. These grasses are only cold hardy in USDA Zones 9 to 10.

  • ‘Fireworks’ has burgundy, hot pink, green, and white variegated leaves. It typically grows 3 to 4 feet tall with burgundy blooms spikes in June.
  • ‘Rubrum’ has dark burgundy-red foliage and bloom spikes and grows 3 to 5 feet tall.
  • ‘Rubrum Compacta’ grows 2½ to 3 feet tall, with even finer foliage, but is not quite as red as ‘Rubrum’.
  • ‘Burgundy Giant’ is a hybrid with very broad, deep red foliage and maroon flower spikes. It is a robust grower and will get 5 to 6 feet tall.

Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans): This adaptable tall, upright native grass blooms with narrow, dark gold flower plumes in late summer.

Foliage turns golden tan in the fall. Prefers full sun and rich, moist well drained soil, but tolerates most soil. Plants reseed, but are not invasive. Indian grass is the state native grass of South Carolina. USDA Zones: 4 to 9

  • ‘Sioux Blue’ has stiff, upright blue-gray foliage and will grow 3 to 5 feet tall.
  • ‘Indian Steel’ grows 3 to 5 feet tall with slender, blue-green leaves.

Giant Sacaton (Sporobolus wrightii): The fine-textured leaves arch to form a wide clump 3 to 5 feet tall. It flowers in late summer. This grass prefers full sun and well-drained soil. Giant sacaton is native to the southwestern U.S. and is an excellent native substitute in place of Miscanthus. It is semi-evergreen in mild climates and is tolerant to salt exposure and drought. USDA Zones: 3 to 9

Giant Needle Grass (Stipa gigantea): The flower stems are 5 to 6 feet tall, arching and airy, with gold dangling flowers in early to mid summer. The narrow evergreen foliage grows 2 feet tall. This grass prefers sun with moist, well-drained soil. USDA Zones: 6 to 10

Sea Oats (Uniola paniculata): This native Southern beach grass tolerates harsh growing conditions and stabilizes dunes. Gray-green sharp leaves grow 3 to 8 feet tall are topped by arching flower stems. This grass prefers full sun and well-drained sandy soil. Do not fertilize sea oats. Never collect or purchase wild collected plants, as they are protected by state law. Any person violating this law will be subject to fines and possible imprisonment. USDA Zones: 7b to 11

Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) is a native grass with blue-green foliage.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2017 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Side Oats Gramma (Bouteloua curtipendula) is a native grass that is drought tolerant.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2017 HGIC, Clemson Extension

‘Karl Foerster’ Feather Reed Grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foersterˈ) with mature seed heads.
Karen Russ, ©2007 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Upland River Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) in a part shade garden.
Joey Williamson, ©2014 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechola macra ‘Aureola’) is a colorful groundcover to brighten shady areas.
Barbara H. Smith, ©HGIC 2017, Clemson University

Hairgrass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) has beautiful white or pink blooms in October.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2017 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Bamboo Muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa) is an excellent non-invasive substitute for bamboo.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2017 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Mexican Feather Grass (Nessella tenuissima) grows in a soft, weeping mound.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2017 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Cloud Nine Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum ‘Cloud Nine’) has light blue foliage and blooms in late summer.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2017 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Hameln fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’) prefers a sunny location with moist, well-drained soil.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2017 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Purple fountain grass (Penisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’) is planted as an annual in South Carolina.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2017 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans) is often seen along sunny roadsides.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2017 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Giant sacaton (Sporobolus wrightii) is a native grass that is an excellent substitute for Maidengrass (Miscanthus sp.) Barbara H. Smith, ©2017 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Sea oats (Uniola paniculata) are protected by state law. Any person violating this law will be subject to fines and possible imprisonment.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2017 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Variegated Japanese sweet flag (Acorus gramineus ‘Variegata’) has narrow, dark green leaves with creamy-white margins.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2017 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Variegated Japanese sedge (Carex morrowii ‘Variegata’) will grow in moist soils in part to full shade.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2017 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Species & Cultivars of Grass-like Plants

Japanese Sweet Flag (Acorus gramineus): Fine grass-like, foot tall semi-evergreen leaves give a texture similar to mondo grass, but thrive in constantly moist or wet soil. They will grow in ordinary garden soil in part shade, but need more moisture in full sun.

  • ‘Licorice’ has evergreen licorice scented leaves. This variety will grow in part sun to light shade and reaches a height of 1 to 1½ feet tall. USDA Zones: 5 to 10
  • ‘Minimus Aureus’ spreads slowly by rhizomes and matures at 4 inches tall. The bright green and gold foliage has a citrus-like smell when crushed. USDA Zones: 5 to 10
  • ‘Ogon’ has yellow leaves that are especially bright in spring and fall. The mature height is 15 inches, and it will grow in full sun to shade with the best foliage color in part to full shade. USDA Zones: 5 to 9
  • ‘Variegata’ reaches a height of 1 to 1½ feet and features narrow dark green leaves with creamy-white margins. USDA Zones: 5 to 9

Japanese Sedge (Carex morrowii): This grass-like plant is grown for its foot tall slender leaves. It grows best in part shade or shade, and in moist or wet soil.

  • ‘Goldband’ is evergreen, with stiff, brightly striped, white and green leaves. It does well in sun to shade with even moisture. USDA Zones: 5-9
  • ‘Ice Dance’ has dark green leaves with white margins that matures at 6-12 inches tall. It grows best in partial sum to shade in moist areas. USDA Zones: 5-9
  • ‘Variegata’ has green and yellow striped leaves. It will grow 1 to 1½ feet tall in moist soils in part to full shade. USDA Zones: 5 to 9

Flax Lily (Dianella tasmanica): This herbaceous perennial has wide, linear foliage. Small blue flowers bloom in the spring and summer, followed by turquoise berries in the fall. It grows best in full to part shade and tolerates drought, salt, and most soil conditions. USDA Zones: 9 to 10

  • ‘Baby Bliss’ is a compact variety with blue-green foliage that grows to 1 foot in height. It has pale violet flowers in the spring, followed by purple berries.
  • ‘Variegata’ has wide green leaves with contrasting yellow stripes. It grows 3½ feet tall.

Matt Rush (Lomandra species): Matt rush is in the asparagus family and is dioecious (separate male and female plants). This low maintenance evergreen will grow in sun or shade and is salt and drought tolerant. USDA Zones: 8 to 11

  • ‘LM300’ Breeze™ has fine, bright green foliage. It will get 2½ to 3 feet tall with an arching growth habit.

Undesirable or Invasive Ornamental Grasses

There are a number of undesirable or non-native invasive ornamental grasses that are commonly used in the landscape, such as maidengrass (Miscanthus sinense), pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana), Japanese bloodgrass (Imperata cylindrica ‘Rubra’), giant reed (Arundo donax), and weeping lovegrass (Eragrostis curvula). These grasses reseed freely and are not recommended for use in the landscape due to their ability to escape into the natural environment. This in turn will displace native grasses and plants that are important as a food source for pollinating insects and other wildlife.

For example, Japanese bloodgrass will revert to the highly invasive green form, cogongrass (Imperata cylindrica). It is illegal in South Carolina to sell, distribute, or plant Japanese bloodgrass.

Any sightings of Japanese bloodgrass or cogongrass must be reported to the Clemson Department of Plant Industry at 864-646-2140 for positive identification and eradication. Possible locations for infestations of cogongrass may also be emailed to the address below:

For more information on cogongrass, refer to HGIC 2318, Cogongrass.

The South Carolina Exotic Pest Plant Council has an up-to-date list on invasive plants to be aware of in South Carolina.

South Carolina Exotic Pest Plant Council https://www.se-eppc.org/southcarolina/Publications/InvasivePlantsBooklet.pdf

Maidengrass (Miscanthus sinense) is a non-native, invasive grass that is commonly used in the landscape trade.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2017 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Japanese bloodgrass (Imperata cylindrica ‘Rubra’) is not recommended for use in the landscape as it will revert to the highly invasive green form, cogongrass.
Karen Russ,©2009 GIC. Clemson Extension

Cogongrass (Imperata cylindrical) is one of the ten worst weeds in the world.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2017 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Common Grass Houseplants: Varieties Of Indoor Grass Plants

Grass is one of those plants that makes you think of summer lawn games, cool blades against your cheek as you nap in dappled light and the brush of finely textured foliage kissing your instep as you saunter about the yard. The scent, color and feel of this living carpet is at once homey and lively. Bring these characteristics into the home by growing indoor grass plants. You can grow a decorative mat of turf grass or use small ornamental indoor grasses as accents in containers.

How to Use Indoor Grass Plants

It may seem inconceivable that turf grasses can grow indoors. Consider indoor stadiums and soccer fields and you will see that it is not only possible, but they flourish. Turf grass may be germinated from seed in flats or directly into containers. A low dish or pot with turf grass covering it makes an interesting center piece on the dining room table and certainly brings the outside to the interior.

Choose a variety that matches your seasons. For instance, northern gardeners should try a cool season grass, while southern gardeners should use a zoysia grass or Bermuda grass. In addition to seasonal concerns, pick a variety that will grow well in your interior light level. The best grass for growing indoors depends upon several factors such as climate and lighting.

Once you have your favorite, trim it or just let it go. Tall common grass plants make an interesting architectural statement. Trimmed types of indoor grass bring order and lushness to any container.

Types of Indoor Grass

In addition to turf grasses, which will grow in almost any container, ornamental indoor grasses bring texture and movement to any potted display. More common grass houseplants such as variegated carex, fiber optics plant, zebra grass, or corkscrew rush thrive in containers in a variety of light levels in the home.

Most types of indoor grass start well in a flat from seed. Just sprinkle the seed over the surface of the soil and cover with a fine layer of sand. Keep the flat or pot moist and, in a week or two, you’ll have the beginnings of baby grass plants. Many of the fescues, such as red fescue or tall fescue, look striking in interior pots.

One of the best grasses for growing indoors is ryegrass. It produces interesting panicles in spring and grows rapidly. Wheatgrass is a common grass houseplant and often used as an edible, while cat grass (a grass mixture grown from wheat, barley, oats or rye) can be found in kit form or just seed. Your kitty will love it. Don’t forget bamboo is a grass and some of the dwarf varieties are well suited to indoor container growing.

Growing Ornamental Grasses is fun. You can decorate your house, garden, balcony or patio with them. So, what are the best ornamental grasses for containers? We named a few, check out.

Grasses are not only for lawn or ground cover. They can add a visual charm at any place if you grow them in containers.

Growing and care for ornamental grasses is relatively easy. You can start to grow them from seeds.

Before you head on to see the list of best ornamental grasses below, learn how to care for them here!

Growing ornamental grasses in containers is an excellent way to feature grasses without letting them branch out and taking over your whole garden. Container grown grasses are also easier to control, and they look stunning when grown with flowers.

Growing Ornamental Grasses in Pots

Ornamental grasses are an excellent way to create privacy in the garden, especially on a patio, balcony or rooftop. Some of the grasses are extremely resistant to drought and grow rapidly. And there are those that love moisture; you can choose according to the growing conditions you’re providing.

Also Read: Balcony Privacy Ideas

Growing Position

Decide where you want to grow the ornamental grass. Ornamental grasses thrive in a spot that gets at least five to six hours of sunlight daily.

Choosing Right Pot

Choosing a right pot is also necessary for growing ornamental grasses in containers. Ensure proper drainage and see if it is wide enough to let the grass spread and deep enough to support the root system. You should also care about the looks of a container.

Also Read: Container Ideas for Patio and Balcony

Requirements

Soil

Use a mix of one part compost, one part top soil and one part perlite for making an excellent growing medium for grass.

Watering

A general rule is to water your plants only when the top two inch of soil is dry. However, different grass varieties have different needs, and some even like to sit in water so make sure to do a proper research about the grass variety you’re growing.

Also Read: How to Water Container Plants

Fertilizer

Fertilize annually in spring with slow-release 3 – 1 – 2 fertilizer. For tropics, feed your plants in fall and winter. Take care not to over-fertilize grass and strictly follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

11 Best Ornamental grasses for containers

Almost fern-like but super fine in texture, bamboo muhly grass grows easily in USDA Zones 8 to 11. It takes its name from its notched stems and feathery foliage. It thrives in the tropical climate, loves sun and heat and grows well in containers.

2. Japanese Sweet Flag

This low growing (12″) ornamental grass is good to grow in containers if you don’t want to grow a tall variety. Japanese sweet flag is low maintenance and grows in moist and soggy soil and semi-shade to full sun in USDA zones 6 to 9.

You can grow this ornamental grass with other moisture loving plants or with aquatic plants.

Also Read: How to make a water pond in container

3. Red Fountain Grass

USDA Zones 9 to 11. Beautiful red fountain grass looks stunning; it’s an arching upright plant. Fill the pot with its rich burgundy color of foliage, and you’ll see how beautiful it looks.

4. Japanese Forest Grass

USDA Zones 5 to 9. Once you see Japanese forest grass growing in a nearby, nursery, you’ll love to pick it. It’s the plant you can grow in the shade, its foliage comes in yellow-green stripes and grows in a clump. Grow this ornamental grass in a dark ceramic pot for an absolutely stunning look.

5. Blue Lyme Grass

Blue lyme grass grows aggressively in all kinds of soil. It grows in both tropical and nontropical climate under USDA Zones 4 to 10. The sword-like foliage grows up to 3 – 4 feet that fold as they grow tall. This bold and spiky grass forms beige colored flower heads usually in summer.

6. Fiber Optic Grass

Image Credit: Cocoon Home

USDA Zones 10, 11. Fiber optic grass grows well in tropics, in a colder climate, you can grow it as annual. It hangs down gently in a curve and creates an unusual effect. It’s one of the best ornamental grasses you would like to grow in containers.

Fiber optic is a low growing, fine textured grass that can be planted in full to partial sun. It loves moist soil. You can also grow it indoors; we also added it in our list of most BEAUTIFUL HOUSEPLANTS!

7. New Zealand flax

USDA Zones 9 to 11. New Zealand flax is perennial in frost-free areas, excellent for tropical regions. You can grow it in containers, it looks beautiful and gives a tropical feel. This grass like beautiful foliage plant comes in colors of green, copper, red and gold.

8. Sedge

Sedge looks like grass, but it is not. When grown in containers, its leaves glow in the sun and look fantastic while the blades rustle in the slightest breeze. Sedge grows well in warm sunny conditions.

Also Read: Container Garden Design Tips

9. Miscanthus

USDA Zones 6 to 9. One of the most popular ornamental grasses, it grows well in the container. Available in many varieties, it looks picturesque in the morning sun.

10. Blue Oat Grass

USDA Zones 4 to 9 Grow this cool blue – gray grass in a pot with bright flowers to create an aesthetic look on your patio, terrace or balcony garden. Blue oat grass is low maintenance and grows well in partial shade.

11. Feather Reed Grass

Feather reed grass can be grown in the sun and partial shade both. It grows well in USDA Zones 4 to 9. Feather reed grass looks attractive as a focal point– on a patio if grown in a container.

Also Read: Best Shrubs to Grow in Containers

Which grass is best suited as an indoor perennial?

Firstly, most grasses won’t do well indoors, so you’ll probably have to go along with a look-alike. Secondly, I don’t have edibility info on the plants I will recommend. Do not ingest any parts of those plants until you have it from a reliable source that the part is edible.

The plants listed below should last indefinitely with proper care, rarely need trimming, and do not require full sun. They may require weekly attention, depending on how often you find you must water. They all have straight, green leaves, which usually arch some as they mature. Many of these plants are more commonly seen in their variegated forms. All of them should make a nice, green strip of wavy ‘grass’ in your living room, given good care.

My top 5 recommendations:

  • Carex morrowii, or Japanese sedge grass, can be unvariegated.

    Not an actual grass. Easy to grow and contrasts well with broad-leaved foliage plants.

    • light: bright filtered light
    • temperature: 65-70° Fahrenheit, 50-60° in winter, if possible
    • humidity: high, especially during warm spells
    • watering: thorough, allowing top 1″ of mixture to dry completely in between
    • feeding: standard liquid fertilizer every 4 weeks, only during spring and summer
  • Chlorophytum cosmosum, or Spider Plant, can be unvariegated

    Can be hard to come by. Very, very easy to grow. Good beginners plant.

    • light: bright filtered light. Avoid direct summer sun.
    • temperature: normal room temperatures
    • humidity: not too picky, but higher humidity is beneficial
    • watering: in spring and summer, keep thoroughly moist. In winter, allow top 1/2″ to dry
    • feeding: standard balanced fertilizer, every two weeks while actively growing
  • Liriope muscari, or lily-turf

    Usually seen as a groundcover/border plant in outdoor beds; recently becoming a popular houseplant. Usually easy-care plant.

    • light: will flower if given bright light. Tolerant of a fair amount of shade.
    • temperature: tolerates fluctuations well, but needs 50-55°F during winter
    • humidity: higher is beneficial, but tolerant of low humidity for periods of time
    • watering: In summer, allow top 1/2″ to dry between waterings; keep from drying completely in winter
    • feeding: standard balanced fertilizer, every two weeks while actively growing
  • Ophiopogon jaburan, another lily-turf

    Uncommon. I’ve had success with this, in large shallow pots, but that may not be necessary.

    • light: will flower if given bright light. Tolerant of a fair amount of shade.
    • temperature: tolerates up to 75°F in high humidity; likes 60-68°F if possible
    • humidity: likes a high humidity, stand on a tray of pebbles
    • watering: In summer, allow top 1/2″ to dry between waterings; keep from drying completely in winter
    • feeding: standard balanced fertilizer, every two weeks while actively growing
  • Stenotaphrum secundatum, or Buffalo Grass

    Not a common indoor plant, but rather easy. May need occasional trimming.

    • light: as bright as possible
    • temperature: no lower than 55°F
    • humidity: likes a high humidity: stand on a tray of pebbles
    • watering: in summer, keep thoroughly moist; in winter rest, keep from drying completely
    • feeding: do not overfeed; standard balanced fertilizer once every 4-5 weeks while actively growing

Shade Tolerant Ornamental Grasses and Grass-Like Plants

While most ornamental grasses prefer and do best in full sun locations, there are a number of grasses and grass-like plants that will provide interest to shaded areas n the garden.

Tufted Hair Grass – Deschampsia cespitosa

Height: 2-3 feet.

Width: 2-3 feet.

Bloom: silky green, May-June, maturing to yellow/gold/bronze.

Notes: Dark green clump forming grass. Yellow to bronze fall color. Silky green flower panicles in spring. Best in moist partial shade.

Northern Sea Oats – Chasmanthium latifolium

Height: 2-3 feet.

Width: 2-3 feet.

Bloom: green, June-July, maturing to copper/brown.

Notes: Has bamboo like appearance. Very attractive seed heads in late summer/fall. Will grow in full shade. Reseeds very heavily.

Japanese Forest Grass – Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’

Height: 12-18 inches.

Width: 18-24 inches.

Bloom: insignificant green, July-August.

Notes: Elegant arching clumps of lime green foliage. Reddish fall color. Slow growing. Best in part shade.

Fall Blooming Reed Grass – Calamagrostis arundinacea

Height: 3-4 feet.

Width: 2-3 feet.

Bloom: none.

Notes: Upright clump forming grass. Pink flower plumes in late summer early fall. Best in part shade.

Sedges – Carex sp.

Height: 3 inches – 3 feet.

Width: 6-24 inches.

Bloom: Depends on species. Some have attractive bloom June-August.

Notes: Numerous useful species offering interesting foliage coloration. Some are clump forming some spread readily. Tolerant also of moist to wet conditions. Best in part to full shade.

Creeping Lilyturf – Liriope spicata

Height: 6-12 inches.

Width: 18-36 inches.

Bloom: Purple, Aug-Sept.

Cultivars: ‘Royal Pruple’, ‘Big Blue’.

Notes: Mounds of leathery foliage. Aggressive spreader. Flowers followed by black berries. Best in part to full shade.

Greater Wood Rush – Lazula sylvatica

Height: 8-12 inches.

Width: 12-15 inches.

Bloom: Yellow/green, April-May, maturing to chestnut brown.

Notes: Excellent for shaded woodland sites. Soft green foliage.

Sweet Flag – Acorus gramineus

Height: 6-12 inches.

Width: 6-12 inches.

Bloom: insignificant .

Cultivars: ‘Ogon’.

Notes: Colorful, fragrant foliage. Best in part to full shade in moist to wet soils.

  • Annuals for Part to Full Shade
  • Annuals for Sunny, Dry Sites
  • Perennials for Dry Shade
  • Perennials for Shade
  • Perennials for Sunny, Dry Sites
  • Perennials Tolerant of Moist to Wet Soil
  • Shade Tolerant Ornamental Grasses and Grass-Like Plants

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