The Prettiest Ornamental Grasses for Sun and Shade

Gorgeous ornamental grasses add movement, color and texture to gardens made in the shade or sun.

Photo By: Doreen Wynja/Monrovia

Photo By: www.perennialpower.eu

Photo By: Ball Horticultural Company

Photo By: Doreen Wynja/Monrovia

Photo By: Ball Horticultural Company

Photo By: Ball Horticultural Company

Photo By: ProvenWinners.com

Photo By: Doreen Wynja/Monrovia

Photo By: ProvenWinners.com

Photo By: Doreen Wynja/Monrovia

Japanese Forest Grass

Choose Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola’ for shady spots. This ornamental grass, hardy in Zones 4-9, is lovely in borders, as a groundcover or container plant, or in Zen or Asian-style gardens. The yellow leaves, which have narrow, green stripes, become slightly pink when the temperatures drop. Commonly called Golden Japanese Forest Grass, the plants tolerate partial shade to partial sun. Use their sunny color to brighten up rock gardens and woodlands.

Fountain Grass

Let the sunshine in. Fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides) 'Hameln' flowers best in full sun, although it can take partial shade. Hardy in Zones 5-9, the plants produce fluffy, buff-colored blooms from late summer to fall; birds are attracted to their seeds. This ornamental grass grows 18-30" tall in spreading clumps. In urban areas, 'Hameln' withstands drought and air pollution. It can also tolerate the wet soil in a rain garden.

Carex

Sun-loving carex, commonly called leatherleaf sedge, isn’t really an ornamental grass, but it looks like one and can be used like one. ColorGrass Carex 'Amazon Mist' forms mounds of leaves that are pale green on top and silvery-white below; they almost shimmer when they're stirred by a breeze. At just 6-12" high, this sedge plays nicely with other plants in containers or small garden spaces. It's hardy in Zones 6-10.

Orange New Zealand Sedge

Fall brings out the vivid orange colors of Carex testacea, another sedge that can be used as an ornamental grass. Hardy in Zones 6-10, the fine foliage, which starts out bronze-green, takes full to filtered sun and tolerates partial shade. Deer and rabbits tend to leave the plants alone. Let Orange New Zealand Sedge spill over the sides of containers or use it in borders. It grows in clumps that reach 18-24" tall.

Mexican Feather Grass

Mexican feather grass (Stipa tenuissima) looks like a fountain of foliage, with very fine, green leaves that mature to pale gold. Hardy in Zones 7-10, it blooms from late summer to fall and reseeds easily, so it's not recommended for California, where it's considered an emerging invasive species. Elsewhere, it's a great ornamental grass for sunny rock gardens, slopes or meadows. This variety, Colorgrass Stipa 'Pony Tails’, grows 16-24" tall and needs only occasional watering after it's established.

Ornamental Millet

Help the bees, birds, and butterflies that pollinate our foods and flowers by planting ornamental millet (Pennisetum glaucum). 'Copper Prince' thrives in shade to partial sun or full sun. Its broad leaves change from a caramel color to coppery-bronze as they mature, and handsome panicles that look like fluffy fox tails shoot up in late summer. This annual grows 24-36" tall and adds a dramatic punch to containers or mixed beds.

Umbrella Grass

Look at the tips of Cyperus involucratus, and you’ll see why this plant is called umbrella grass: the leaflets on top of the stems look like umbrella spokes. Graceful Grasses 'Baby Tut’ is happy in part sun to sun and thrives in beds, containers or water gardens. At 18-24" tall, the plants, which are actually sedges, can grow in ponds as long as the crowns stay above the water. In the garden, they need moist soil until they’re established. Treat them as annuals if you live outside Zones 9-11.

Scottish Tufted Hair Grass

This isn't the kind of hair you want to run through your fingers, but Deschampsia cespitosa 'Schottland’ is a handsome addition to small garden spaces and containers. It's hardy in Zones 4-9 and forms clumps of dark green foliage that grow 2-3' tall. Yellow panicles appear in summer, followed by golden-bronze seed heads. Give it full shade to partial sun. Birds love these evergreen plants.

Purple Fountain Grass

Purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setacum 'Rubrum’) is known for its arching stems of burgundy leaves. This heat-tolerant ornamental grass is suitable for partial sun to sunny spots and matures at 13-36". Leave the dried foliage and seed heads on the plants at the end of the growing season, and they'll provide winter interest. (But remove them if you live in a dry climate or anywhere else there is a danger of fire). These containers of purple fountain grass are mixed with orange portulacas and yellow-green sedums.

Pink Muhly Grass

'Plumetastic' Pink Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) has a mounding growth habit, with green, grass-like foliage. It earns its name in the fall, when fluffy, pink "clouds" of flowers appear. This ornamental grass is easy to grow, deer resistant, and tolerant of heat, drought, and poor soils. Hardy in Zones 6-9, it reaches 18-36" tall and takes full sun to light shade. Use the dried flowers in arrangements or leave them uncut for late fall and winter interest.

Shop Related Products