Every landscape needs ornamental grasses. Beautiful, sturdy, easy to grow, there’s one for every landscape need.
Short, compact types are great for edging and ground cover. Tall, billowy varieties with captivating plumes wave in the breeze and add a soothing sound to your landscape.
Some offer fluffy seed heads that attract birds all winter. Others sport eye-catching stripes that add punch to your garden.
Convinced you need some? Here in New York and Connecticut, look for ornamental grasses that grow well in zone 6, our growing zone. The United States Department of Agriculture defined growing zones to determine what plants will survive where, based on how cold it gets in the winter.
Here’s a look at some of the best ornamental grasses for the northeast and zone 6.
Miscanthus may be the king of ornamental grasses.
It grows in most any soil, from loose sand to heavy clay. It’s deer resistant, drought tolerant and great for everything from privacy to erosion control.
It offers pretty plumes, winter interest and attracts birds. Full sun? Part shade? It isn’t picky.
Here are three of the best varieties of Miscanthus for zone 6:
Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus’
Also called maiden grass, this is one of the oldest and best known varieties of Miscanthus.
Beautiful, rounded mounds of fine, silver-veined green leaves arch gracefully in a vase-like form. In early fall, reddish plumes emerge and then age to a soft silvery-white. In the fall, leaves turn to pretty golden yellow. Showy seed heads attract birds.
It ranges from 6 to 10 feet tall and spreads 3 to 6 feet.
Miscanthus sinensis ‘Variegatus’
This variegated grass has been used in gardens since the 1900s. It grows in an arching, rounded clump to about 6 feet tall, but the showy plumes can increase the height to as much as 9 feet tall.
The leaf blades feature green and white stripes, and it has a light, silvery glow from a distance.
Watch for tiny red tassel-like flowers in September, which turn into silvery plumes in the fall. As the seeds mature, they become fluffy, offering great winter accent.
Miscanthus sinensis’ Zebrinus’
This variety is commonly known as zebra grass, so you can guess why it’s popular — it offers great striped foliage in dark green and yellow that adds huge impact to the landscape.
Tiny coppery pink flowers appear as tassels in late summer, gradually turning into silvery white plumes in fall.
Leave the foliage standing throughout the winter for visual interest.
It grows 5 to 8 feet tall and spreads 4 to 6 feet.
Also known as fountain grass, these grasses offer beautiful texture with flower spikes that glow in the sun and wave in the breeze. They’re especially impressive planted in groups.
There are lots of forms and sizes, one to fit any spot in your landscape. Here are a couple favorites to consider:
Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’
This grass features arching, deep green foliage in an upright clump that grows to about 2 feet tall. The leaves change to a pretty orange-bronze in fall and stay attractive throughout the winter.
Showy pinkish-white, wheat-like flower spikes arch outward from the clump in late summer, like water spraying from a fountain.
Because of its shorter size, this is a great grass for smaller spots. Consider it for rock gardens, border fronts or small areas around the home. It also grows well in moist locations — low spots, water gardens or on the banks of streams or ponds.
Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Piglet’
Another shorter grass, ‘Piglet’ is a dwarf fountain grass that typically grows in a graceful, spreading clump about 18 inches tall and a couple feet wide.
The narrow, deep green leaves rise only about 8 inches tall, topped with fluffy flower spikes that make up the rest of the height.
This grass makes a great edging and also does well in containers.
Liriope is a grassy type of perennial that’s considered an ornamental grass. It’s also called lilyturf.
It’s great as a ground cover to prevent erosion on even the steepest hillsides. It survives either wet or bone dry conditions and grows in either full sun or deep shade. It grows so thickly, weeds don’t stand a chance.
Sold yet? We love it, too. Here are two of our favorite varieties:
Liriope muscari ‘Big Blue’
This is a tufted, grass-like perennial that grows 12 to 18 inches high and features a clump of strap-like, arching, glossy, dark green leaves. Showy lavender flower spikes in late summer look a bit like grape hyacinth. The flowers give way in fall to blackish berries which often last into winter.
Plant it in just about any type of soil in any kind of light.
Liriope muscari ‘Variegata’
The glossy green leaves on this variegated variety feature creamy yellow margins.
It grows 12 to 20 inches tall and features dense lavender flowers.
It’s great as an edging plant or massed as a ground cover.
The Best Native Grass
There are lots of benefits to using native plants — plants original to your area of the country. Native plants feel right at home and are less susceptible to pests and diseases. They grow well and require little care. Birds, butterflies, and hummingbirds will start flitting around your yard.
We love this native ornamental grass: Panicum virgatum, commonly known as switchgrass. Our favorite variety is ‘Heavy Metal,’
an upright landscape grass with lovely blue-green foliage that turns yellow in fall. It’s one of the best native ornamental grasses for the northeast.
Airy, wheat-colored flowers appear in summer and remain attractive well into fall. The seed plumes last well into winter, offering both visual interest and food for birds.
Tough and easy to grow, it isn’t picky about soil type and grows in full sun to part shade.
Neave Knows Ornamental Grasses
The pros at Neave Landscaping love ornamental grasses for their versatility, ease of growing and just plain beauty.
Now that we’ve shared a few of our favorites, we’d love to incorporate them into your landscape.
And don’t forget — your new grasses need water. Consider enlisting the help of our specialists at Neave Irrigation.
They’ll inspect your property and install the perfect sprinkler system to help your grasses — and all your plantings — thrive.
Your Neave Landscaping expert will serve as the lead for any coordination efforts done between our divisions. This streamlines workflow by providing you with one contact who serves as your go-to for questions, concerns, and planning.
We’d love to hear from you.
If you’re in the Hudson Valley, call us at (845) 463-0592. If you’re in Westchester County, call (914) 271-7996; from Connecticut, dial (203) 212-4800. Or, fill out our simple web form, and we’ll contact you about setting up your free consultation.