Ornamental grasses add unique texture and structure to landscaping. They are also low maintenance, drought-tolerant, and many of them provide year-round interest in gardens. From lower mounding types to over 6 feet tall, and ranging in colors for ice blue to deep purple to vibrant green, there is a wide variety of grasses to choose from.
Grasses used to dominate the landscape in Iowa, with over 80% of the state being classified as tallgrass prairie, though there is much less now. This means we can grow a wide variety of beautiful grasses, some of which are beneficial for our local ecosystems. Here are 5 of our favorite ornamental grasses.
Prairie Dropseed is one of the smaller ornamental grasses, getting up to 2-3’ tall. It adds a light and airy feel to the garden with its finely textured leaves and stocks. The seedheads are long and feathery, and sway in the breeze. This ornamental grass doesn’t self-seed very often, so it won’t take over your yard. The foliage turns a rich copper-gold color in the fall.
Little Blue Stem
This Iowa native perennial grass features silvery-blue leaves that turn a gorgeous dark red in the fall. It gets up to 3 feet tall and is quite easy to grow. If you don’t want it to spread in your yard, you may want to remove the seedheads. Its foliage will last through most of the winter unless crushed by lots of snow. Little Blue Stem grass does best in a full sun location.
Karl Foerster Feather Reed Grass
This popular Feather Reed grass is a hardy perennial and easy to grow. It doesn’t set seed, so you won’t have to worry about it taking over your yard. It spreads by rhizomes underground, but it’s quite slow. It gets 4-6 feet tall and features pretty feathery plumes above dark green leaves. Karl Foerster does well in part sun to full sun.
Switchgrass is another Iowa native grass that is a great structural grass. It gets up to 4-6 feet tall, and several different varieties are available. There are varieties with very dark summer foliage, or with blue-gray foliage. Some types turn a gorgeous red in the fall. Switchgrass does well in full sun or partial shade.
This is also known as Hardy Pampas Grass. Other varieties of Pampas Grass can be invasive, so check tags carefully. This is the perfect grass for privacy screening, reaching up to 10 feet tall, and clumps can get as much as 4-6 feet wide. Ravenna grass needs full sun to thrive.
Purple Flame Maiden Grass
Purple Flame Maiden Grass adds a unique color variation to your garden. In the summer it’s a grayish-green color, and in the fall it turns to a brilliant red-orange. This taller grass, getting 5-6’ tall, adds structure and contrast to your garden all summer, and all winter. It features soft mauve plumes above the foliage that seem to dance in the slightest breeze.
There are so many ways you can incorporate ornamental grasses into landscaping. Besides being beautiful, they’re a great way to add architectural structure and texture different from shrubs and flowers. They’re also an excellent choice as a backdrop to highlight beautiful flowering plants. Grasses also provide shelter and food for a variety of birds and pollinators.
Ornamental grasses are the perfect low-maintenance statement plant because they really don’t require much once they’ve been planted. If you’re not sure how to incorporate grasses into your landscape, have a chat with one of our professional landscape designers. We can help you figure out the best places in your yard to plant ornamental grasses, and the best varieties to suit your style.