11 Small Ornamental Grasses for Your Garden

  • Time to read: 6 min.

Ornamental grasses are a great way to add some versatility and subtle beauty to your garden. The texture, reliability, and easy-to-maintain nature of these grasses can really make a garden or a path stand out.

If you’re looking for something that won’t turn into a 6′ tall, 6′ wide towering behemoth, I have a few varieties that generally stay smaller for you to choose from.

Dwarf Mondo Grass

Dwarf Mondo Grass | Photo 103776274 © Sonthaya Klinsmith | Dreamstime.com

Dwarf mondo grass is an extremely common dwarf ornamental grass used in gardens in zones 7-11. It grows to be 4-6″ tall and is quite hardy, especially in bright sunny locations.

If you’re looking for a dwarf grass, this is one that’s likely to be readily available and cheap if it grows in your local area.

Pennisetum Alopecuroides

Pennisetum alopecuroides | Photo 129928209 © Agata Pietrzak | Dreamstime.com

Another ornamental grass with several dwarf varieties is Pennisetum alopecuroides. This type of grass has a lot of different cultivars, including some with bright purple plumes.

Some of the dwarf varieties include “Little Bunny” and “Purple Bunny”, which stay between 8-12″ and 12-16″ respectively. “Hameln” is another variety that grows up to 36″ if you want something slightly bigger than that.

Purple Fountain Grass

Photo 159440160 / Purple Fountain Grass © Marjatta Caján | Dreamstime.com

One of the most popular ornamental grasses, Purple Fountain Grass – as the name suggests – has a flowing fountain shape. Its burgundy-red foliage and burgundy-purple bottlebrush plumes are a great option to incorporate contrasting shades, gentle movement, and textures into your garden. 

It’s also one of the best ornamental grasses for shade as its tall plumes “flow” in partially shaded conditions too. This ornamental grass blooms between July to October. It doesn’t require a lot of maintenance and a medium, consistent supply of water is enough

There are varieties that get 5’+ in size, but the “Red Riding Hood” dwarf variety stays around 18-30″ tall.

Feather Reed Grass

Photo 164668277 / Feather Reed Grass © Svetakinzerskaya | Dreamstime.com

Named after its feathery spikes, Feather Reed Grass produces gorgeous bronze flowers that sprinkle the landscape with a unique texture, movement, and color. Since it is one of the toughest and most reliable ornamental grasses out there, it is great for public settings.

It stays in bloom from early summer all the way to winter. Feather Reed Grass thrives in full sunlight to partial shade and is quite tolerant of heat. It grows well in most regions, including in heavy clay soil. 

The full size plant can get up to 5′, but the dwarf variety will stay around 2′ tall, with flower stalks that are 4′ tall.

Little Bluestem

Photo 153307995 / Little Bluestem Grass © Llmckinne | Dreamstime.com

With its super pretty mauve-blue leaves, vertical growth stature, and subdued texture, this ornamental grass adds an essence of sophistication to any garden. These ornamental grasses are a haven for insects and wildlife that contribute to a healthy garden ecosystem.

Little Bluestem can be planted as a background element, massed together in a bed, or along a slope. It requires full sun exposure and is exceptionally hardy in colder climates. In the autumn months, its grey-green leaf blades turn into vibrant shades of burgundy-red.

The “Prarie Munchkin” variety grows around 24-30″ tall.

Pink Muhly Grass

Photo 166724829 / Pink Muhly Grass © Artit Tongvichit | Dreamstime.com

If you’re looking to add drama to your garden in the latter months of the year, look no further than the Pink Muhly Grass. With wispy, pink, cotton candy-like plumes, these perennial ornamental grasses add a soft texture to your garden with a splash of fresh color.

For maximum effect, these can be planted along a slope where the sunrise or sunset can enhance its lively color. These are heat and drought tolerant and thrive in full sunlight or partial shade.

It will get between 18-30″ tall, with most of that height being the pink plumes.

Purple Millet

Photo 121969852 / Purple Millet © Telev | Dreamstime.com

This hardy ornamental grass is a visually striking one, with its rich purple foliage that’s paired with burgundy plumes that resemble fuzzy cattails. Not only do these ornamental grassesadd a splash of color to your garden, but they also attract pretty birds.

Purple millet is an annual plant that grows well in either full sun or part shade, in well-drained soil. Its flowers that bloom in summer, take the form of attractive seed heads by autumn. 

This plant can get anywhere from 3-10′ tall, but it will only get to be 2′ wide, so it can still work in tight areas if the need arises.

Golden Japanese Forest Grass

Photo 133856783 / Golden Japanese Forest Grass © Yorozu Kitamura | Dreamstime.com

A popular type amongst perennial ornamental grasses it adds a subtle, yet complementing variety to the garden. Its unique shape and stunning foliage with thin stripes of gold against green, make it a focal point. These stripes transform into copper-pink hues in fall.

Golden Japanese Forest Grass, is also one of the very few ornamental grasses for shade, as it thrives in partial shade as opposed to full sun exposure. It can add dynamism to shaded portions of your garden that don’t receive much sunlight.

This grass grows to be around 24″ tall.

Blue Fescue

Photo 161331526 / Blue Fescue © Owsx30 | Dreamstime.com

The Blue Fescue features steel-blue, whisker-like leaves that are sprinkled with tan seed heads. It’s a popular choice amongst ornamental grasses for gardens as its color complements most other hues and tones.

Its fine texture makes it perfect to be used as a stunning accent in any landscape. While it thrives when it receives full sun exposure, it can also grow well in partially shaded conditions. Its even spread makes it a good choice for planting in a bed or along a slope and is especially suited to urban areas.

The “Elijah Blue” variety stays around 10-12″ tall.

Little Zebra Grass

Little Zebra Dwarf Grass | Photo 90252474 © Macsstock | Dreamstime.com

This ornamental grass is popular amongst avid gardens for its mesmerizingly unique leaves that are dotted with distinct horizontal bands. It blooms in mid-summer with copper-pink flowers that pair well with the green-and-gold striped leaves.

It is most commonly used as a background plant in mixed borders, and its dwarf version was created to beautify smaller spaces. It requires full exposure to sunlight to grow well or needs to be partially shaded.

This grass grows to be between 3-4′ tall.

Umbrella Grass

Umbrella Grass | Photo 109196494 © Yorozu Kitamura | Dreamstime.com

Sedges are ornamental grassesthat come in several sub-varieties and look best when grown in groups or clumps. An example of this grass is umbrella grass, an aquatic sedge that’s renowned for its vase-shaped structure and exotic aesthetics.

Its diminutive form makes it perfect for small spaces, and it grows well in wet or boggy soils. It also thrives in shallow water like at the edge of a water feature like a pond. So, if you have a lot of water features in your garden, umbrella grass will be your best friend!

Umbrella grass stems are also dried and used to weave mats, so if you have a creative side, it could make this a good choice for your garden.

This grass will grow between 18-48″ tall, depending on what conditions it’s provided.

Final Words

Ornamental grasses have several benefits including being dazzling landscape elements and controlling soil erosion along slopes. They’re an invaluable addition to any garden as they add a whole new depth to it while being easy to maintain. Happy planting!

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