As summer winds down and fall speeds us up, ornamental grasses come into 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)
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
Beautiful Perennials to Pair with Shenandoah Switch Grass
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)
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
Beautiful Perennials to Pair with Plumetastic® Pink Muhly Grass
Grow Variegated Japanese Silver Grass (Zone 4-9)
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
Beautiful Perennials to Pair with Variegated Japanese Silver Grass
Grow Heavy Metal Blue Switch Grass (Zone 4-9)
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
Grow Karley Rose Oriental Fountain Grass (Zone 5-10)
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
Beautiful Perennials to Pair with Karley Rose Oriental Fountain Grass
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?
- Be inspired by 5 Ways to Design with Ornamental Grasses.
- Create your own outdoor room with a view using ornamental grasses and a restrained design technique.
- Get a closer look at fall’s golden grasses.
- Discover more fall stunners with these companion planting beauties perfect for Zones 4-7 and Zones 8-11.
You can also explore our entire collection of ornamental grasses to discover more of the most beautiful plants for your landscape. Visit your local garden center to see what’s available in your community now.