What is Ornamental Grass?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ornamental grass is a type of grass which is grown for its showy foliage. Ornamental grasses can be grown in a variety of climates, from tropical regions to arid deserts, and they can serve a variety of functions in a landscaping schemes. Unlike lawn grasses, which require mowing and heavy maintenance, ornamental grasses are bred to be allowed to grow to their full height and size, and they require much less work and significantly less water, although people usually cannot walk on ornamental grasses.

Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

These grasses range in height, from relatively short grasses to tall ornamental grasses which can grow over nine feet (three meters) in height. Many ornamental grasses have striped or splotched foliage with variegated colors, and their leaves may be especially interesting to look at. Some flower, and many produce seeds which appear in the late summer and fall. Ornamental grass can be interesting to look at both living and dead, with most gardeners trimming their ornamental grasses down over the winter so that new growth will have room to flourish in the spring.

A typical ornamental grass needs to be planted in soil which has been prepared with fertilizer and soil amendments which will promote even drainage. Once established, the grass can be watered at varying intervals, depending on its water requirements. Gardeners can trim or shape ornamental grasses, or leave them alone, saving the pruning for the winter. Every few years, a bald patch will start to develop in the middle of an ornamental grass planting as dead growth builds up, indicating that it is time to divide and replant the grass to get rid of the dead growth.

Gardeners who want to work with native plants usually have a range of suitable ornamental grasses to choose from, with many nurseries carrying native grasses. It is also possible to find non-natives which are suited to someone's gardening zone, along with exotics which may require a little more work to cultivate. Ornamental grasses can be used to create texture in a landscape, to fill in empty areas, to line paths, and in a variety of other ways, depending on someone's landscaping scheme.

Some examples of ornamental grass include; plume grass, blue fescue, perennial fountain grass, blue lymegrass, feather reed grass, switchgrass, ribbongrass, Japanese silver grass, northern sea oats, rabbit's tail grass, quaking grass, sedge, flame grass, pink muhly, piglet fountain, maidengrass, lilyturf, bluestem, and hairgrass. These ornamental grasses can be grown from seeds, plugs, or whole plants purchased at a nursery.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@croydon - Growing ornamental grass is generally a safer bet than growing things like vines though, as it's less likely to take over an established environment.

I think most people realize the best way to work with their landscape is to try and use native plants anyway and that goes just as well for ornamental grasses as anything else.

They are actually an excellent way of maintaining a garden that doesn't need much water and yet isn't subject to erosion and land degradation.

If you plant the right kinds of grasses, you'll be able to make something lovely out of a bit of seaside land as well, which is very difficult to grow on.

It's just a matter of doing research before you start planting and not getting too attached to a particular plant. Just use the ones that will suit the landscape, don't try to fit the landscape to the plant.


@Iluviaporos - You also need to check and make sure that bamboo is allowed and encouraged in your area. There are quite a few places where introduced bamboo has taken over the native plants and is considered a noxious weed. You don't want to add to that problem, or even create a new problem with a new kind of bamboo.

Planting any ornamental grass should take the local environment into account, particularly if your land backs onto any wild areas or waterways.

Just because you can buy a particular ornamental grass doesn't mean that they aren't considered a pest. Gardening centers can be just as unscrupulous or ignorant as any other kind of business.


I love ornamental grasses when they are used well in a landscape. They add so much texture to the garden and they are low maintenance to boot.

I particularly like using bamboo as an ornamental grass, but you have to be careful when selecting bamboo for your garden.

Bamboo tends to be either relatively high maintenance, or completely uncontrollable and without a lot of supervision a bamboo grove can quickly take over your whole garden.

Luckily, if you do have a fast growing bamboo, they are more useful than the standard ornamental grass as you'll be able to use the stalks as stakes for the rest of your garden (and might even be able to eat parts of the new stalks, if you're feeling adventurous).

But you do have to keep an eye on it, as bamboo is difficult to eradicate if it manages to get a foothold in places that you don't want it.

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