Types of ornamental grass: 16 striking varieties for borders and pots

Prized for their structure and color, these types of ornamental grass are a lovely addition to any garden border to give you extra interest in fall and winter

types of ornamental grass
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There are so many types of ornamental grass to choose from that you'll be spoiled for choice if you're looking for ways to keep borders looking good in autumn and winter. Once perennials finish flowering at the end of summer, flowerbeds can often feel empty and lack interest, but grasses will solve that problem with ease. 

As well as being low-maintenance and reliable, grasses fill borders with grace and movement. They have flower panicles that billow on the breeze, and wonderful color once they take on their fall hues. 

Designers use them to create a naturalistic look, reminiscent of a meadow, and to ensure the garden is impressive during winter. Along with the architectural seed heads of perennials such as globe thistle, grasses endure through the cold months, providing fawn and gold tints and are spellbinding when dusted with frost. 

Key border grasses include feathery Miscanthus, bottlebrush-like Pennisetum, elegant Calamagrostis, and upright Panicum. All provide structure, lightness, and autumn color. 

With so many benefits, it's certainly worth learning how to grow ornamental grasses. They work hard, performing in summer, autumn and winter alike, and create a beautiful naturalistic look. 

ornamental grasses in autumn

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16 types of ornamental grass to add structure to your plot

Ensure there's always something interesting to look at in your beds and borders during the cooler months by adding some of these types of ornamental grass to your planting list. 

1. Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ 

Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’

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A spectacular, ornamental grass, this feather-reed variety forms striking columns of vertical flower panicles that morph to a pretty straw blonde. 

Calamagrostis can be planted to form feathery garden screening ideas, and is fast-growing and easy to maintain. It's deciduous and thrives in well-drained soil in open, sunny borders. Its eventual height is 5ft (1.5m).

2. Panicum virgatum ‘Northwind’ 

Panicum virgatum ‘Northwind’

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One of the best varieties of graceful switch grass around, this is useful for creating vertical accents in garden borders to add architectural interest. 

The dense clumps of upright blue-green leaves turn to golden amber in autumn and the flowers are golden. A deciduous grass for well-drained soil in sun. Height is 5ft (1.5m).

3. Molinia caerulea subsp. arundinacea ‘Skyracer’ 

Molinia caerulea subsp. arundinacea ‘Skyracer’

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A columnar purple moor grass that forms shuttlecocks of slender foliage that turns a lovely golden color in fall. 

This variety provides nectar and pollen for bees and other types of pollinating insects. A deciduous grass for well-drained, open, sunny borders. Expected height is 6.5ft (2m). 

4. Stipa gigantea ‘Gold Fontaene’ 

Stipa gigantea ‘Gold Fontaene’

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A spectacular form of golden oats, which produces panicles of oat-like flowers that shimmer gold in the sunlight above a clump of grey-green leaves. 

The arching stems of this majestic semi-evergreen grass are an excellent choice for introducing movement to borders. Prefers well-drained soil in a sunny spot. Height is 8ft (2.5m).

5. Stipa ichu (syn. Jarava ichu) 

Stipa ichu (syn. Jarava ichu)

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The graceful Peruvian feather grass has thin green leaves topped with arching fluffy silver-ivory flower plumes and makes an impressive addition to any flowerbed ideas

It turns a lovely shade of gold in fall and adds color in winter too. A semi-evergreen grass for well-drained south-facing borders. Height is 2.6ft (80cm). 

6. Deschampsia cespitosa ‘Goldtau’ 

Deschampsia cespitosa ‘Goldtau’

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This airy deciduous grass billows beautifully on the breeze, and the silvery red-brown flower plumes mature to glistening gold and last well into autumn. 

The feathery flowers form shimmering golden clouds that catch the light and this variety is super easy to grow too. Likes a moisture-retentive soil in sun or semi-shade. Height is around 2.5ft (75cm).

You'll find plenty more suggestions for the best low maintenance plants in our guide, too. 

7. Pennisetum macrourum 

Pennisetum macrourum

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This ornamental grass is a favourite of landscape designer Dan Pearson, who is known for his naturalistic planting style. 

The African feather grass has long buff-cream flower wands in late summer and autumn that turn pinky-beige, and are a great choice for arranging in vases too. A deciduous grass that spreads gradually in well-drained soil in sun. Height is 5ft (1.5m).

8. Festuca glauca 'Intense Blue' 

Festuca glauca 'Intense Blue'

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Designers use this spiky polar-blue grass to add drifts and year-round color at the front of the border. It looks good when used in conjunction with garden gravel ideas and Mediterranean-style planting schemes. It also works well in containers and is one of the best plants for winter pots

In summer, it produces masses of attractive fawn flowerheads. Prefers well-drained sun-baked soil or containers. Height is 12in (30cm). 

9. Stipa tenuissima

Stipa tenuissima

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A favourite of garden designer Luciano Giubbilei, the green-blonde Mexican feather grass creates movement and lightness at the front of the border as it billows in the breeze. 

It's ideal for a sunny gravel garden and also works well in large garden planters. An evergreen for poor, well-drained soil in full sun. Expected height is 20in (H50cm).

10. Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’ 

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’

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This fabulous fountain grass has green leaves marked with cream stripes that create a lush jungle effect in the border to create a stunning backdrop for perennials. 

The leaves sway and rustle on the breeze and this often produces silky spikes of flowers in late summer which last well into the winter months. A deciduous grass for well-drained soil in sun. Height is 5ft (1.5m). 

11. Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’ 

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’

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A wonderfully elegant grass that forms a pale clump of arching slender white and green leaves that arch gently at their tips to create a fountain-like effect. 

In warm summers these types of ornamental grass have reddish brown flowers from early fall onwards. Grow this deciduous variety in well-drained sun-baked borders or plant it up in a pot as part of your container gardening ideas. Height is 6.5ft (1.2m).

12. Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’ 

Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’

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An eye-catching small ornamental grass that forms cascades of arching yellow leaves lined with green that light up areas in semi-shade. When the plant is fully grown it often develops an attractive reddish tinge. 

It's one of the best edging plants as it can be used to soften the edges of paths or steps, plus it also looks great in modern urban planters. 

A deciduous grass that forms gradually spreading mounds, plant in well-drained, moist soil in sun or semi-shade. Height is 16in (40cm).

13. Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’ 

Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’

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An upright mass of blue-green leaves that develop stunning red and damson tones in fall, topped by a haze of light and airy flowers. 

Try planting it in small clumps among taller grasses, or against a background of tall perennials. A deciduous grass for well-drained soil in a sunny position. Height is 3ft (90cm). 

14. Imperata cylindrica ‘Rubra’

Imperata cylindrica ‘Rubra’

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The spectacular blood-red spikes of these types of ornamental grass are the star of the show when added to mixed borders or shown off in a container. 

Erect green and red leaves that morph to bold, translucent ruby are eye catching in late summer. Can be slow to establish and may need winter protection in cold areas. A deciduous grass for well-drained soil in sun. Height is 1.6ft (50cm).

There are plenty of tips on how to protect plants from winter in our guide.

15. Miscanthus sinensis ‘Ferner Osten’ 

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Ferner Osten’

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The clumps of green leaves take on wonderful copper and crimson tints in fall, and the plume-like dark-red flower panicles emerge in summer and age to silvery-pink. 

This is one of the showiest types of ornamental grass, that can be used as a stand-alone specimen, but it will also add drama to autumn borders. A deciduous grass for well-drained soil in sun. Height is 5ft (1.5m).

16. Anemanthele lessoniana (syn. Stipa arundinacea)

Anemanthele lessoniana (syn. Stipa arundinacea)

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Also known as pheasant's tail, this is one of the best types of ornamental grass as it adds year round color, movement and structure to the garden. 

The tufts of thin arching green leaves develop orange and bronze tints in autumn and winter. This colouring becomes even more intense the colder it gets making a stunning addition to your winter garden ideas. An evergreen grass for well-drained soil in sun or semi-shade. Height is 2.5ft (75cm). 

What are the key ornamental grasses for sound?

Ornamental grasses earn their place in the garden by providing enchanting sound when the wind blows. They can be a brilliant addition to sensory garden ideas as the gentle noise they make will create a soothing, relaxing effect. 

Some of the best for this are the zebra grasses such as Miscanthus sinensis ‘Strictus’, which rustle on the breeze, as well as towering M. sacchariflorus, which has long, thick, lush leaves on tall stems, creating an exotic jungle look.

Miscanthus sinensis also known as Chinese Silver Grass, in a garden border

Miscanthus sinensis

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What are the best types of ornamental grass for encouraging wildlife?

If your priority is filling your plot with wildlife garden ideas, opt for native grasses and mix them into borders with nectar-rich perennials such as butterfly-friendly Liatris, Verbena, and Eupatorium. 

Specialist grass nursery Knoll Gardens sells a wide range of British grasses, such as Briza media, which produces a multitude of small flowerheads that shimmer on the breeze in the middle of the border. 

The sedge Carex elata ‘Aurea' is a similar height, producing a clump of gold and green leaves, while at the back of the border, Deschampsia cespitosa is an airy cloud of blonde flowerheads, and Molinia caerulea subsp. arundinacea forms an upright tower that glows honey gold in autumn. 

close up of Molinia caerulea in a flowerbed

Molinia caerulea

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Where to buy ornamental grasses

Now you know the best types of ornamental grass to grow here are some quicklinks to our favorite suppliers to make the job of buying them easier.

Where to buy ornamental grasses in the UK:

Where to buy ornamental grasses in the US:

Stipa tenuissima ornamental grass in a garden border

Stipa tenuissima 

(Image credit: Mark Bolton/Future)
Sarah Wilson
Content Editor

Lifestyle journalist Sarah Wilson has been writing about gardens since 2015. She's written for Gardeningetc.com, Livingetc, Homes & Gardens, Easy Gardens and Modern Gardens magazines. Having studied introductory garden and landscape design, she is currently putting the skills learned to good use in her own space where the dream is establishing a cutting garden.