Ornamental grasses accent a garden any time of year, but they might just be at their most imposing in the doldrums of winter. When there is little on view but the skeletons of your garden, ornamental grasses provide structure, texture and drama to the gardenscape.
Here are 10 of the best ornamental grasses and grass-like plants for winter interest. Many even do double duty by attracting birds to your winter garden, by providing shelter and food.
1. Acorus calamus, Sweet Flag
Though not a true grass, Sweet Flag is a native North American perennial, grown for its grass-like foliage. The leaves are fragrant when crushed. Varieties can range from a low growing clump to 6 feet tall. They benefit from regular watering. Zones 3-10
2. Alopecurus pratensis Aureus, Yellow Foxtail GrassThe Foxtails are cool season grasses, blooming in early summer. Although they spread by rhyzomes, they are slow to move. Maximum height is about 12 inches. Extremely hardy. Zones 4-8
3. Andropogon gerardii, Big BluestemMany grasses in the genus Andropogon are native to North America. They are warm season grasses, blooming late in the season. A. gerardii is one of the hardier varieties. It is the official prairie grass of Illinois. The flower stalks grown in 3-pronged branches, giving it its nickname of Turkey Foot. It can easily grow to 8'. Zones 4-7
4. Calamagrostis x acutiflora Karl Foerster , Feather Reed GraCalamagrosits is one of the most ornamental of the grasses and Karl Foerster was the first grass to be named Perennial Plant of the Year. Some cultivars in the genus are frost-tender. In addition to Karl Foerster, the variegated Overdam is a good winter selection. Zones 4-9
5. Carex muskingumensis, Palm Sedge
Carex arent true grasses. True grasses have hollow, cylindrical stems. Sedges have edges or solid, triangular stems and spiky flower heads.
Palm Sedge has thin, yellow margins on its 2'-3' long green leaves. It can handle drought, excessive moisture, sun and shade AND its not invasive. Zones 4-9
6. Helictotrichon sempervirens, Blue Oat GrassAnother cool season, early bloomer. Helictotrichon is drought tolerant and prefers a well drained soil. It has blue foliage, as the name implies, and can grow to about 3' tall. Looks great massed, but works equally well as an accent plant.Zones 4-8
7. Hystrix patula, Bottlebrush GrassAnother great North American Native, Bottlebrush Grass is a good choice for dry shade. The seedheads on this woodland grass really do look like bottle brushes. It can reach a height of 3'-5'. Zones 4-9
8. Miscanthus sinensis Silberfeder , Silver Feather Maiden GrassMaiden Grass is graceful and delicate with large, showy flower heads. They seem to shimmer when hit by back lighting. Miscanthus like moist conditions, but are adaptable. Other good cultivars to try are: Arabesque, Autumn Light, Cabaret and Morning Light. Zones 5-9
9. Panicum virgatum, Switch GrassSwitch Grass is a tough prairie native. They can get to about 4'-5' tall and grow in a columnar fashion, rather than out, like a fountain grass. There are some excellent cultivars available including: Cloud Nine, Heavy Metal and Prairie Sky. Zones 5-9
10. Sorghastrum nutans, Indian GrassIndian Grass tends to be quite tall, 6+ feet, but sturdy, with roots that can support its height. It tolerates a range of conditions and is a host plant for the Skipper butterfly. Zones 3-9