Cool-Season & Warm-Season Varieties of Ornamental Grasses: What’s The Difference?

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-purple fountain grass Ted Lare

There are so many gorgeous varieties of ornamental grasses that add color, texture, and movement to the landscape. However, most tend to fall into one of two categories: cool-season and warm season-grasses. Both have different care requirements and optimal seasons for planting, so if you’d like to grow some ornamental grasses in your garden this year, read this guide so you can choose the most suitable varieties.

Here in Iowa, the weather is not too hot and not too cold—just right for growing both types of grass! While our neighbors up North have better luck with cool-season grass, and the Southernmost states are ideal for warm-season grass, we can grow either kind with minimal effort.

Ted Lare- Cool-Season & Warm-Season Varieties of Ornamental Grasses-maiden grass

Warm-Season Varieties of Ornamental Grasses 

These grasses love hot weather—ideally between 80 and 95°F—so they’re happiest from June until August. If you’re growing perennial warm-season grass, check the hardiness zone before planting to ensure it will survive our cold winter. Des Moines is in USDA Zone 5, so anything hardy to Zone 5 or higher will work great!

Many warm-season grasses produce flowers that appear as fluffy, feathery tufts. They add so much whimsy to the landscape, and the tufts look gorgeous in cut bouquets!

Once the temperature cools in fall, the foliage will turn brown and die. Cut it back once it has died—preferably in late fall, but you should be fine as long as it’s gone by late winter to make room for new growth. 

Like many other perennials, you need to divide these plants when they get too crowded. Always wear gloves when dividing—grass blades are sharper than you think! Divide warm-season grasses sometime between spring and midsummer when the plant is still in its active growing phase. Divide them like any other perennial—gently dig them up, then split the root ball into two or three pieces using your hands or a sterile knife. 

Ted Lare- Cool-Season & Warm-Season Varieties of Ornamental Grasses-black mondo grass

Some popular types of warm-season grasses include:

  • Maiden Grass
  • Giant Reed Grass
  • Fountain Grass
  • Prairie Dropseed
  • Mondo Grass
Ted Lare- Cool-Season & Warm-Season Varieties of Ornamental Grasses-blue fescue grass

Cool-Season Varieties of Ornamental Grasses

As the name suggests, cool-season ornamental grass grows best in mild weather conditions. Their ideal temperature is between 60 and 75°F, so they’re most comfortable from April to June and late August to October. 

They won’t die during the hottest summer months, but growth will slow down, and some of the foliage might start to brown. In the fall, another growth spurt occurs, and some fresh new foliage will emerge. If you like, you can move container-grown ornamental grass to a spot shaded from the bright afternoon sun to protect them from heat stress.

Some cool-season grasses will produce feathery tufts, but many are just grown for their pretty foliage. These grasses often look pretty attractive when winter hits, so you don’t have to cut them back immediately. Instead, you can wait for spring and cut them back before the new growth appears. 

Divide cool-season grass in either spring or early fall—their active growing seasons. Spring is the best option. Transplanting in fall can still work, but you may find that the freezing and thawing of the ground in winter may force your new transplants out of the ground. After planting, water your divisions generously to encourage their roots to spread and take hold. 

Ted Lare- Cool-Season & Warm-Season Varieties of Ornamental Grasseshakone grass

Popular types of cool-season grasses include:

  • Feather Reed Grass
  • Blue Fescue
  • Blue Oat Grass
  • Tufted Hair Grass
  • Hakone Grass

 

You’d be amazed at how many varieties of grasses you can grow in Iowa. Visit us at Ted Lare Garden Center to see everything that’s ready to plant now; you’ll love all the gorgeous colors and textures. Plant them in garden beds, landscape borders, container arrangements—your options are endless! 

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