Ornamental grasses

Quick facts and care essentials

• Foliage Perennial
• Zones vary
• Exposure needs vary
• Water needs vary

Ornamental grasses add a special touch to the garden. The fine, upright foliage of taller deciduous kinds ripples in the slightest breeze. Shorter kinds ― both evergreen and deciduous ― fill in nicely among other plants, either forming small clumps or spreading over a wider area. Hundreds of choices are available; the two below are manageable in size and easy to grow.

Festuca glauca 'Elijah Blue'. Zones 1-24, 29-45. The best of the blue fescues, this annual grass forms mounding, fine-textured (but somewhat stiff-looking) clumps of a wonderful blue. Each clump is about a foot tall and wide.

This grass grows well in sun or partial shade. It needs only ordinary garden soil and performs well with little water once established. Cut clumps to the ground at the end of winter dormancy; new stems will emerge in the spring.

Fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides). Zones 3-9, 14-24, 31-35, 37, 39. This is one of the smallest of the arching deciduous grasses, typically reaching 3 to 4 feet tall and wide. Bright green leaves emerge in spring. As summer approaches, pinkish flower plumes rise above the foliage mound; with the onset of fall, leaves turn yellow, then brown.

Give regular water and ordinary to well-amended soil (plants accept acid or alkaline soil). Fountain grass thrives in full sun in cool-summer climates, partial shade in warmer regions. Cut foliage to the ground in winter. Division is rarely needed; do the job only every 5 to 6 years, if at all.

P. orientale, Oriental fountain grass, is similar to P. alopecuroides in growth habit and cultural needs. It too has pinkish plumes, but it reaches only 1 1/2 to 2 feet. In cold-winter climates, it is often grown as an annual.