Skip to main content

These are the best ornamental grasses for your lawn and garden

Grass is just grass, right? Wrong! There’s a wide variety of grass available with all sorts of different appearances, needs, and uses. And there are several things to consider when you’re trying to select the right grass seed for your lawn. If you’re curious about ornamental grasses, or looking to seed your lawn with one, here’s everything you need to know about the best of the best.

Tall fescue

Tall fescue is a great all-purpose grass. It has a nice, classic appearance, with a shade of green that can only really be described as grass green. It can tolerate all manner of conditions, including drought, cold, heat, shade, and most diseases.

Tall fescue grows fairly quickly and is a reliable seed. You can count on tall fescue to establish itself with fervor, as its deep and fast-spreading root system takes hold and keeps it steady through almost anything.

The one thing tall fescue can’t do is self repair. Unlike some other grasses, tall fescue doesn’t spread through rhizomes. It grows in clumps or bunches and spreads slowly if at all. This means that when part of your lawn is damaged, the rest of the grass won’t spread to fill that space. However, this does make it easier to control.

Close up of a field of kentucky bluegrass

Kentucky bluegrass

Kentucky bluegrass has a rich, dark green color that makes it a favorite of many lawn owners and gardeners. It has a slightly more distinct appearance than tall fescue, but it is also a little more finicky.

Kentucky bluegrass has specialized in one environment, and that’s the cold. It tolerates cold well and can endure the winter. However, it is not nearly so resistant to heat, drought, or shade. It can withstand more activity than tall fescue and is a little better at self repair, but its need for a specific environment can pose a significant drawback.

If you do live in a cooler climate, though, you’ll enjoy how quickly this grass establishes itself and spreads! Although it’s slower to germinate than other grasses, once it gets going it doesn’t stop.

Close up of perennial ryegrass

Perennial ryegrass

Perennial ryegrass has some of the better qualities of both Kentucky bluegrass and tall fescue. It’s a cool climate grass, like Kentucky bluegrass, but requires a little less upkeep. It tolerates some shade, and certain varieties can withstand heat and drought, as well.

Like tall fescue, this grass grows and is established quickly, but is also a bunching grass, meaning it spreads very slowly. However, it has shallow roots, making it less hardy than tall fescue.

Perennial ryegrass is a good middle point between Kentucky bluegrass and tall fescue. As a perennial, it will come back each year fairly reliably. It isn’t picky about soil pH, either! While extreme pH values are unpleasant for any plant, perennial ryegrass tolerates a wider range than other grasses.

Little zebra grass

If you’re looking for something a little more interesting, something to put the ornament into ornamental, look no further than little zebra grass! Little zebra grass has a very distinct appearance. It’s long, jade green blades are periodically banded with creamy gold stripes.

This variety can grow quite tall if you let it, although it’s still shorter than zebra grass, hence the name little. As such, it can be used as a lawn grass, a border plant for gardens, or even grown in containers! If allowed to grow, it even produces flowers in late summer.

This beauty isn’t just versatile, but adaptable, too. Little zebra grass can grow in a variety of soil qualities and conditions, including poor soil and acidic soils.

Green grass with small, horizontal, yellow stripes

Little zebra grass prefers sun over shade but can tolerate a little bit of shadow. It’s also resistant to deer, making it an excellent choice for more rural locations where deer may be an issue.

In addition to growing pretty tall, it can also spread. This gives it the benefit of needing less seed to cover an area, although you should still seed thoroughly.

One drawback to this particular grass is that it isn’t very tolerant of drought. It can withstand some dry spells, but, in order to flourish it needs regular watering. It doesn’t need more water than the average grass, but it does need it fairly consistently.

There you have it! The best ornamental grasses for anyone, anywhere. Which will you choose? No matter which one you decide on, you can’t possibly go wrong with these four lovely grasses.

Editors' Recommendations

Cayla Leonard
Cayla Leonard is a writer from North Carolina who is passionate about plants.  She enjoys reading and writing fiction and…
How to plant morning glories for a stunning display in your garden
Your guide to vibrant, healthy blooms
Morning glory on trellis

Morning glories are wonderful climbing plants that certainly live up to their name. Whether you prefer a more classic blue and purple variety or want to try a daring scarlet or black, these flowers are easy to grow, even for gardeners who are just beginning their growing journey. If you’re intrigued by morning glories and want to try your hand at growing them, then you’re in the right place. In this handy guide, we’ll lay out everything you need to know about how to plant morning glory flowers and how to care for them.
Benefits of growing morning glory flowers

If you've been thinking about growing morning glories, you don't need to think twice if you live in the appropriate climate zone and have just the right conditions for them to thrive. They come in gorgeous colors—most notably a lovely lavender blue color. As their name suggests, they open up during early morning, then close up a few hours later.

Read more
Does vinegar kill weeds? How to use your favorite household cleaning product in your garden
Everything you need to know about using vinegar to tackle unwanted weeds
Glass bottle labeled vinegar on table

Whether you're a seasoned or novice gardener, there's a good chance that you've heard about using vinegar as a weed killer. Since many gardeners are interested in using natural alternatives to harsh commercial herbicides, vinegar has become a go-to for removing pesky weeds. But does vinegar kill weeds effectively? Is it really the miracle weed killer that DIY enthusiasts make it out to be? Vinegar can, in fact, help with weed management, but it has both pros and cons as a natural herbicide. Here's what you need to know about using vinegar in the garden.
What makes vinegar an effective weed killer?

Vinegar is essentially a solution of acetic acid with water — the vinegar that you buy at the grocery store is typically 5% acetic acid and 95% water. Acetic acid kills plants by damaging their cells. Upon contact with acetic acid, cell walls break down, which leaks plant fluid and dries out plants. You want to be careful about applying vinegar to your landscape, since it will likely kill any plant tissue upon contact, including foliage that you're actively growing.
How do you create a DIY vinegar weed killer?

Read more
What herbs can be planted together? How to plan your herb garden
Keep these tips in mind for arranging your plants when planning your garden space
A crate full of harvested herbs

There are so many useful and delicious herbs you can grow in your garden, but figuring out how to arrange them can be tricky. Companion planting charts can help you choose companion plants if you already have a few herbs picked out, but what if you aren’t sure where to start? This guide will help you decide what herbs can be planted together in your garden. The best companion plants have similar care requirements, so find the section that best matches your garden and get ready to plant.
Herbs for dry gardens

If the area you have set aside for your herb garden is in full or majority sun with dry or well-draining soil, then you’ll likely need some drought-tolerant herbs. Rosemary and lavender are two of the most commonly planted herbs for this type of garden, and luckily, they pair well with many other herbs. Oregano, sage, and thyme make excellent companion plants for each other, as well as both rosemary and lavender.

Read more