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…
Ornamental grasses add texture and color to your garden – how to grow these 6 different varieties
Caring for these ornamental grasses in your yard or garden
Pink muhly grass

Although there are countless varieties of grass, so many of them look the same. It can be difficult to find grass that really stands out in your garden. That’s where ornamental grasses come in. Ornamental grasses like pink muhly grass, purple fountain grass, and switchgrass can add color and texture to your garden borders just like flowers would. Wondering which ornamental grass to choose for your garden? Here are a few of our favorites!
What makes a grass ornamental?
You may think that all grass is ornamental. After all, we grow lawns because they look nice, not because we use them for food. You wouldn’t be entirely wrong in thinking that. Ornamental grass is still grass; it’s just grass that looks different. However, ornamental grass includes grass-like plants such as sedge, as well as true grass varieties.

Ornamental grasses come in a range of appearances besides the short, green look of classic lawn grasses. Often, ornamental grasses are tall, with some growing to 15 feet tall or more. Many are colorful and patterned, and they may have an interesting flower or seed head. Since there are so many varieties, there are ornamental grasses that will fit almost any garden or yard. Many gardeners use ornamental grasses as borders, but some varieties can make great additions to container gardens or flower gardens.

Read more
Blazing stars will fill your summer garden with color: A liatris care guide
Growing and caring for liatris
Tall purple liatris (blazing star) with butterflies

There are many wonderful plants you can add to your summer flower garden for stunning color, from tall and bright sunflowers to short and sweet zinnia. If you’re planning your garden now, you should definitely consider adding liatris, also called blazing star, to the mix! This tall, drought-tolerant, native perennial has stunning purple flowers. It’ll even attract butterflies. Here’s everything you need to know about planting and caring for liatris.
Planting liatris
You can plant liatris bulbs in the spring or fall, but you can transplant mature plants during any season. Choose a location with full sun and well-draining soil to plant your liatris in. Blazing stars can tolerate some light shade, but they won’t thrive unless they get at least 6 hours of sun each day. Spacing is important when planting liatris, as they can grow to 2 feet high and 1.5 feet wide. Plant your liatris bulbs 12 to 15 inches apart so they have plenty of space to grow.

In addition to having well-draining soil, it should also be average or poor. Many plants prefer soil that's rich with organic matter, but liatris has an unusual quirk! The flower stalks will sometimes bend or flop over if the soil is too rich.

Read more
From gerbera daisies to roses, here are dog-friendly flowers to grow in your summer garden
If you have a curious dog, these nontoxic flowers are for you
Brown dog on a bed of roses

Pet parents know that dogs can be curious creatures. There are few things sweeter in life than watching a dog frolic in the yard, but that sweetness can quickly morph into anxiety when you see your pup digging up plants and nibbling on foliage with reckless abandon. But even if you have a fur baby who likes to take a bite out of everything, you can still enjoy a beautiful garden full of flowers.

If you're on the lookout for dog-friendly flowers, you've come to the right place. Ahead, we've gathered a list of nontoxic flowers that you can grow around pups. As always, you'll want to keep an eye out for your fur baby — even if these are nontoxic, your dog may still experience an upset stomach if they nibble on them!

Read more