Not only is their coloring valuable at this late season, but the slender foliage and flowery plumes of ornamental grasses adds distinctive form to the garden’s autumn palette. They may begin the season in shades of green, but each of these turn a warm, golden hue in fall. Tough, unfussy, waterwise once established, they’re picture perfect in beds, borders, on slopes, and, with the taller varieties, as soft hedges.
Here are ten of our favorites; plant them now for a show that starts early next summer and, for many, runs right through winter.
Adagio Maiden Grass
Miscanthus sinensis ‘Adagio’
Why: Dwarf plant with graceful, silvery-green arching foliage becoming a whirl of orange, gold and burgundy in fall and hundreds of plumes that emerge bronzy-pink, fading to white.
What: Partial to full sun. Fast up to 5 ft. tall and 3 ft. wide. Zone: 6 – 9
How: Spectacular in mass or mixed into perennial borders.
Foerster’s Feather Reed Grass
Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’
Why: This low growing ornamental grass stars feathery flower spikes that emerge reddish-brown in spring and turn golden to buff in fall. Sterile seeds do not produce unwanted seedlings.
What: Full sun. Reaches up to 2 ft. tall and wide; stalks to 6 ft. tall. Zone: 4 – 9
How: Wherever it can catch a breeze to make it sway gracefully.
Dwarf Fountain Grass
Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’
Why: Fluffy, buff-colored plumes arching above foliage which turns golden-russet in fall. Terrific contrast used among shrubs or as a backdrop with other waterwise plants.
What: Full sun. Reaches up to 3 ft. tall and 2 ft. wide. Zone: 4 – 11
How: A great choices for smaller gardens, containers, and city courtyards.
Blue Heaven Little Bluestem
Schizachyrium scoparium ‘MinnblueA’ P.P. #17,310
Why: Narrow, upright, grassy foliage emerges blue, develops pink and burgundy hues in late summer, and turns a rich copper in fall; purplish panicles. Tan seed heads persist into fall.
What: Full sun. Raches up to 2 ft. tall and wide. Zone: 3 – 10
How: Great vertical accent for a border, rock garden or container; perfect for bird-friendly landscapes.
Malepartus Maiden Grass
Miscanthus sinensis ‘Malepartus’
Why: Flower plumes come on mid-summer held high above broad foliage with a superb erect habit. Blooms open pink, turn coppery red in fall and turn silvery white in winter. Bronze-red fall foliage adds striking contrast.
What: Full sun. Reaches up to 5 ft. tall and wide; plumes to 7 ft. tall. Zone: 5 – 9
How: Where you need height and scale; blooms hold through winter.
Black Flowering Fountain Grass
Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Moudry’
Why: Prized for its glossy foliage and large, almost black foxtail-like flowers.Fall foliage is yellow to orange. Grow in masses or with other drought and heat-resistant perennials.
What: Full sun. Reaches up to 2 ft. tall and 3 ft. wide. Zone: 5 – 10
How: Ideal for rock gardens, dry streambeds, containers and next to landscape boulders.
Purple Silver Grass
Miscanthus sinensis ‘Purpurascens’
Why: Bold color in three seasons makes this grass a highly variable accent for gardens. Slightly gray-green blades in summer turn brilliant red-orange in fall with mauve-colored feathery plumes.
What: Partial to full sun. Reaches up to 4 ft. tall and wide; stalks to 6 ft. tall. Zone: 4 – 9
How: A focal point for borders and containers. Ideal amongst rock gardens and conifers.
Blonde Ambition Blue Grama Grass
Bouteloua gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition’ P.P. # 22,048
Why: Rugged, cold hardy native grass features blue-green foliage and striking, flag-like summer flowers on stiff, weather resistant stems. Long-lasting blonde seed heads provides cool-season interest.
What: Partial to full sun. Reaches 3 ft. tall and wide. Zone: 4 – 9
How: Massed in a low border or as a waterwise turf substitute.
Overdam Feather Reed Grass
Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Overdam’
Why: Create striking vertical effects with reddish-brown, feathery, summer blooms that turn golden in fall, atop beautiful yellow-margined foliage. Sterile seed-heads.
What: Full Sun. Foliage reaches up to 24 in. tall and wide; blooms to 6 ft. tall. Zone: 4 – 9
How: Massed where you need height. Stunning in bouquets.
Shenandoah Switch Grass
Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’
Why: Prized for its unmatched foliage color. Fast-growing green leaves emerge with red tips in spring, darkening through summer, and turning burgundy in fall. Airy reddish-pink flowers in summer.
What: Partial to full sun. 4 ft. tall in bloom, and 2 to 3 ft. wide. Zone: 4 – 9
How: Plant in mass for a drift of almost year round color. Add a modern twist by planting in rows and grids.