Grow Grasses with Beautiful Fall Color

As summer winds down and fall speeds us up, ornamental grasses cominto their prime. Beautiful as accents or en masse, you can grow ornamental grasses with confidence in most zones. Plus, grasses are perfect for adding drama and beauty to your landscape from late summer into fall, and even throughout the winter. 

Here are our latest favorites, including companion planting tips and garden design advice from two of our Horticultural Craftsmen, Justin Hancock and Megan McConnell. 

Photo credit: Anthony Paul Landscape Design

Grow Shenandoah Switch Grass (Zone 4-9)

Photo credit: Doreen Wynja
Photo credit: Doreen Wynja

Shenandoah Switch Grass  

This handsome, upright grass is prized for its swaying, architectural foliage. In spring, fast-growing green leaves emerge with red tips, then darken through summer. Come fall, they’re a beautiful blend of rich burgundy and gold tones. Airy reddish-pink flowers develop in summer and float atop the vibrant foliage.

Shenandoah Switch Grass is perfect in partial to full sun. Plant near water gardens or terraced patios where the airy plumes sway in the breeze. It also grows beautifully in containers or with mass plantings.

Designers love to drift it in prairie and meadow gardens. It’s also beautiful in a modern, architectural garden when planted in rows and grids.

Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’

Beautiful Shrubs to Pair with Shenandoah Switch Grass

Photo credit: Doreen Wynja 
Photo credit: Doreen Wynja 

Candy Apple Hydrangea

Justin’s Tip: These two easycare plants look stunning together. The Hydrangea’s cloud-like flowerheads combine beautifully with the Switch Grass’s misty-looking plumes. 

Photo credit: Doreen Wynja 
Photo credit: Doreen Wynja 

Compact Mugo Pine 

Megan’s Advice: Not everything in your garden should grab attention. Mugo Pines are fussfree, deep green plants that allow the grass to be the star of the show. 

Beautiful Perennials to Pair with Shenandoah Switch Grass

Photo credit: Doreen Wynja  
Photo credit: Doreen Wynja  

Lacey Blue Russian Sage 

Justin’s Tip: “Plant this in front of Shenandoah for lovely fall contrast. Its silvery foliage and violet-blue flowers are magic against the grass’s warm tones.”

Photo credit: Terra Nova Nurseries 
Photo credit: Terra Nova Nurseries 

Evolution™ Chocolate Fountain Sedum 

Megan’s Advice: “The Sedum’s foliage pairs wonderfully with the burgundy in the grass’s leaf tips and plumes. Flower heads persist into fall, when grasses are at their best. 

Grow Plumetastic® Pink Muhly Grass (Zone 7-10)

Photo credit: Jennifer Cheung 
Photo credit: Jennifer Cheung 

Plumetastic® Pink Muhly Grass 

Showy, glittering clouds of vivid pink-purple plumes atop gently arching green foliage make this plant shine in warm autumn light. It also lends richer, longer-lasting color to your landscape than older varieties of Pink Muhly Grass.

Plumetastic Pink Muhly Grass is outstanding as a single specimen and spectacular massed in a meadow or native garden where it can enjoy partial to full sun. It’s superb on a hillside and planted in front of a stone or solid wall. You’ll especially enjoy it when planted so plumes are backlit by afternoon sun.

Designers love to mix it into cottage, meadow, Mediterranean, native, coastal, and modern landscape designs.

Muhlenbergia capillaris ‘Irvine’

Beautiful Shrubs to Pair with Plumetastic® Pink Muhly Grass

Photo credit: Monrovia 
Photo credit: Monrovia 

Bountiful Blue® Blueberry 

Justin’s Tip: “This edible shrub’s blue-green fruit and foliage complement the pink plumes in summer. Come autumn, its purple-red foliage is equally striking.”

Photo credit: Doreen Wynja 
Photo credit: Doreen Wynja 

Little Ollie® Dwarf Olive 

Megan’s Advice: “Leave this durable shrub untrimmed for a natural, Mediterranean look. Sheered, it can anchor your Muhly in a formal garden. 

Beautiful Perennials to Pair with Plumetastic® Pink Muhly Grass

Photo credit: Terra Nova Nurseries 
Photo credit: Terra Nova Nurseries 

Morello Agastache 

Justin’s Tip: Another stunner for hot, dry spots, its rose-pink flowers echo Plumetastic’s color, but its more upright flower spikes provide textural contrast. 

Photo credit: Ball Horticultural 
Photo credit: Ball Horticultural 

Roman Red Salvia 

Megan’s Advice: “Larger perennials like this won’t get lost with this grassand the Salvia’s deep red blooms amp up the dramaBonus: Hummingbirds love it! 

Grow Variegated Japanese Silver Grass (Zone 4-9)

Photo credit: Doreen Wynja 
Photo credit: Doreen Wynja 

Variegated Japanese Silver Grass  

Silver-white plumes dance atop this graceful, ornamental grass in summer. But it’s especially striking when autumn rains and late-season frosts set the plumes a-shimmer. These plumes top arching, variegated foliage featuring beautiful dark green shades highlighted by creamy white stripes.

Variegated Japanese Silver Grass is a great choice for textural contrast. Plant in partial to full sun as an understated background for dwarf shrubs. Or make a statement with it as a vertical accent among low-growing perennials.

Designers like to use this grass near water gardens and fountains as it can disguise pumps and filters, give the illusion of reeds, and provide wildlife cover.

Miscanthus sinesis ‘Variegatus’

Beautiful Shrubs to Pair with Variegated Japanese Silver Grass

Photo credit: Doreen Wynja 
Photo credit: Doreen Wynja 

 Little Joker Ninebark 

Justin’s Tip: “Ninebark’s foliage pairs beautifully with this Miscanthus’s variegated summer foliage and fall finery. Enjoy a different personality each season. 

Photo credit: Doreen Wynja  
Photo credit: Doreen Wynja  

Walberton‘s® Plumtastic Spirea 

Megan’s Advice: “Plant this small shrub in front of the grass, where its darker foliage and dark pink flowers will contrast with the creamy white grass blade edges. 

Beautiful Perennials to Pair with Variegated Japanese Silver Grass

Photo credit: Syngenta 
Photo credit: Syngenta 

Sweet Summer Fantasy Phlox 

Justin’s Tip: “This Phlox brings a soft fragrance to the late summer garden, and its bicolor flowers play perfectly off the grass’s variegated leaves.”

Photo credit: Terra Nova Nurseries 
Photo credit: Terra Nova Nurseries 

Blueberry Muffin Ajuga 

Megan’s Advice: “Come fall, the dark foliage of this weed-smothering groundcover will pop against the grass’s foliage.”

Grow Heavy Metal Blue Switch Grass (Zone 4-9)

Photo credit: Paul Debois / GAP Photos
Photo credit: Paul Debois / GAP Photos

Heavy Metal Blue Switch Grass

Subtly stunning, this grass is alight with airy, pink-tinged panicles from summer through fall. Its foliage color shifts from metallic blue in summer through reddish, then wheat colors in fall. Unlike other Swicth Grasses, which tend to soften and sprawl, Heavy Metal holds its tight, upright habit throughout the growing season.

Beloved by birds and wildlife, this native North American grass is perfect for a wild garden or meadow with partial to full sun. Plant Heavy Metal Switch Grass as a standalone specimen in smaller spaces, or stagger clumps in odd numbers in your garden bed. Delicate seed heads in summer and fall mature into a bounty of winter food for birds.

Designers love to showcase its autumn wheat color and gilded form in front of the season’s best bright reds, but it is versatile when planted with many other colors, too.

Panicum virgatum ‘Heavy Metal’

Beautiful Shrubs to Pair with Heavy Metal Blue Switch Grass

Photo credit: Ball Horticultural  
Photo credit: Ball Horticultural  

True Blue Butterfly Bush 

Justin’s Tip: “The silver-blue flowers on both plants create subtle repetition. Come fall, you’ll love the pair’s contrasting warm shades of gold and blue.”

Photo credit: Doreen Wynja  
Photo credit: Doreen Wynja  

Dark Horse Weigela   

Megan’s Advice: “I love pairing blue with dark red or purple foliage. It’s a sleek, modern combination. When in bloom, its dark pink flowers put on quite a show.”

Grow Karley Rose Oriental Fountain Grass (Zone 5-10)

Photo credit: Paul Debois / GAP Photos
Photo credit: Paul Debois / GAP Photos

Karley Rose Oriental Fountain Grass   

A tufted mound of deep green, arching foliage sets aloft smoky, airy rose-purple flower spikes which wave gracefully in the breeze and nearly glow when backlit by the sun.

Bird-friendly and waterwise once established, Karley Rose Oriental Fountain Grass is an easy-care plant with a long bloom season. Plant it in full sun, preferably in a place where you can watch the wildlife while you enjoy the grass’s softness and movement.

Karley Rose is stunning in mass planting and fantastic as a container accent. It’s also versatile, offering grace and texture in Asian, Mediterranean, cottage, and contemporary garden designs.

Pennisetum orientale ‘Karley Rose’

Beautiful Shrubs to Pair with Karley Rose Oriental Fountain Grass

Photo credit: Doreen Wynja 
Photo credit: Doreen Wynja 

FloralBerry® Sangria St. John’s Wort 

Justin’s Tip: “The Hypericum’s burgundy-backed leaves and reddish-purple fruits are an ideal complement to the Pennisetum’s rose-pink plumes. 

Photo credit: Doreen Wynja 
Photo credit: Doreen Wynja 

Grace N’ Grit™ Pink Shrub Rose 

Megan’s Advice: Grasses can give more traditional plants like Shrub Roses a modern look. Plus, they’re both low maintenance. Any color would pair beautifully. 

Beautiful Perennials to Pair with Karley Rose Oriental Fountain Grass

Photo credit: Doreen Wynja 
Photo credit: Doreen Wynja 

HARLEQUIN™ Pink Beardtongue 

Justins Tip: There’s a lovely contrast in habits with the Penstemon’s upright spikes and the Pennisetum’s graceful, fountain-like shape. 

Photo credit: Syngenta 
Photo credit: Syngenta 

Desert Eve™ Red Yarrow 

Megans Advice: “Intersperse Yarrow with grasses for a casual meadow look. The red flowers evolve to lighter colors that blend with the soft pink plumes. 

How should you care for ornamental grasses?

Check out this how-to on pruning ornamental grasses.

And note: Many gardeners prefer to wait until mid-late winter, even early spring, to cut back grasses. When you wait, you offer more food and cover for wildlife during the coldest months of the year (which means you can enjoy more wildlife sightings from the kitchen window).

Want more design ideas featuring ornamental grasses? 

You can also explore our entire collection of ornamental grasses to discover more of the most beautiful plants for your landscapeVisit your local garden center to see what’s available in your community now. 

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