Whether you're looking for a statement plant to add some airy elegance to your garden or a spiky, structural number to add a little drama to your borders, ornamental grasses tick all the boxes. They also happen to be one of the trends continuing to take our gardens by storm in 2022 so if you want to keep your garden bang up to date on style and design, they're worth introducing to your outdoor space.
There are a huge variety of ornamental grasses to choose from but fortunately, most are hardy, virtually carefree, and are beautifully textured in their own unique ways. Perfect for pots, landscape design, and adding dynamic depth to your beds, we've brought together a list of the best ornamental grasses for your garden, as well as some planting ideas and care tips to help your grass thrive.
Best ornamental grass for your garden
Mexican Feather Grass
'Stipa tenuissima' always features heavily in gardens at summer flower shows, after which sales go through the roof! A neat, compact grass with stiff, thin stems, a strong arching shape, and open structure, it's almost transparent, rather than the dense effect of some other grasses. Also known as ponytails or angel hair, its wispy, pale leaves are topped with fluffy heads of silvery-green flowers from June to September.
'Hordeum jubatum' is short-lived but it will self-seed to grow new plants. Give it a warm, sunny position and it'll reward you with delicate, pale pink, silvery flowers. Plant in drifts and the flowers will sway in the breeze creating attractive waves. Looks great in a gravel garden or at the front of a modern border.
These low-growing hummocks of grey-blue, needle-thin leaves are evergreen, with pretty flower spikes in summer slowly fading to brown. Other than a comb-through in early spring to remove any dead foliage, it needs zero attention from you.
With huge, graceful feathery heads of silky cream-white flowers, this majestic ornamental grass has boomed in popularity over the past year both indoors and outdoors. Fully hardy, these make a striking feature for late summer and autumn and still look attractive in the winter frost. These come supplied in approx. 2-litre containers.
Japanese Blood Grass
The upright blades of 'Imperata cylindrica Rubra' are green at the base and red at the tip, glowing like flickering flames when backlit by the sun. It's not terribly tough so plant it in a sunny spot and keep it cosy with a layer of mulch in autumn or grow in a pot and pop it under cover in winter.
This lofty curiosity originates from North America where it's also known as northern sea oats. It boasts masses of unusual flat flowers that add a sculptural edge to a modern plot, and the whole plant dries to a rich russet-brown colour in autumn. Give it a sunny spot and cut stems to ground level in early spring.
Chinese Fountain Grass
'Pennisetum alopecuroides' has long, arching, slender, green leaves, and fluffy, brush-like, brown-like spikelets in summer that resemble a squirrel's tail. Highly decorative and low-maintenance, it can grow up to 150cm and thrives in full sun with fertile, well-drained garden soil. As it grows in clumps, it's ideal for filling gaps in your borders.
We can't get enough of these fluffy flowers of whitish-green that take on purple tints as they mature. This grass won't survive a chilly winter so keep it cosy with mulch or grow in a pot and bring undercover in late autumn. Plant in a sunny, well-drained location.
White Cotton Grass
'Eriophorum scheuchzeri' gets its common name because of the fluffy, white flowerheads that look like cotton wool balls floating among clumps of grassy foliage. Native to Alaska, Canada, Greenland, and Iceland, it's super hardy and can grow up to 30cm. It needs to be kept moist so would do well next to a garden pond, and you can expect to see the white flowerheads from June to September each year.
Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola'
Planted in large drifts at the edge of a path or beneath trees, this slow-growing grass will bring movement to your garden with its tumbling cascades of striped yellow and green leaves. Plant in full sun, where the leaves can develop a reddish tint, or part shade, and cut back to the base in spring.
Slender leaves sit atop towering stems, creating quite an impression. Plant where it will catch the sun and its seedheads will shimmer like gold into winter. The leaves have sharp edges so wear gloves when handling and comb through in spring to remove dead foliage. Supplied in 3 x 9cm pots.
'Lagurus ovatus' is so cute and looks exactly like its name describes: plump little balls on skinny stems which bob up and down in the breeze. Perfect for edging, beds, and tubs, these seeds can grow up to 20cm in height with delightful, touchable heads that flower from June to September.
Feather Reed-Grass 'Karl Foerster'
This stiff grass is great as a screening plant so use it to edge a seating area. The green leaves and stems emerge in spring, followed by buff-coloured plumes that last into winter. It happily grows in full sun or light shade but grows best in most rich soil. This larger, well-established plant comes supplied in a 5-6.5 litre container.
Miscanthus Sinensis 'Zebrinus'
Just look at these stripy leaves! This variegation is temperature-dependent so plant it in light shade. The green and cream foliage grows in an elegant fountain shape and in hot summers you'll also enjoy silky, coppery-pink flower spikes. Cut down to the base in late winter.
Pink Pampas Grass
'Cortaderia selloana Rosea' produces fabulous plumes of silvery-pink flowers from September through to November - a guaranteed showstopper. Cut the stems when in bloom, and dry for a stunning display indoors that will last up to a year.
Ornamental grass planting ideas
• Match with hardy geraniums and Siberian bugloss for the ultimate low-maintenance showstopper patio pot.
• Plant into a trio of small patio pots to pretty up and punctuate your paving or decking.
• Plant in a row to use as a garden screen from neighbours, to divide up your garden, or to frame a seating area.
• Because of its cascading shape, ornamental grasses such as the Mexican feather grass look gorgeous in a wide shallow bowl.
• Use as the perfect backdrop to show off garden sculptures, especially with grasses with fluffy heads that’ll gently sway in the slightest breeze. They’ll provide a beautiful contrast to straight lines and spheres.
• Cut and dry some of the seedheads in autumn for indoor arrangements or leave them where they are to feed finches and other seed-eating garden birds.
Ornamental grass care tips
• Plant in autumn or spring.
• To tidy up your grass after winter, comb through it with a gloved hand or hand fork in early spring to remove dead leaves.
• If you need to keep the soil well-drained but moist in summer, dig in compost or use a soil improver or conditioner. In spring, feed it with a controlled-release fertiliser to encourage growth and add a generous layer of compost or mulch around the plant in autumn.
• Add a water-retention gel or use John Innes No.3 compost to cut down on watering.