Ornamental grasses: the best types and how to grow them

These are best ornamental grasses for your autumn borders, plus top tips on growing them successfully

Ornamental grasses in Ballydehob, ireland, by Jesse Gardner
(Image credit: Unsplash/Jesse Gardner)

Ornamental grass makes a big impact in the garden, with many varieties hardy and easy to grow, providing year-round interest. From tall and wispy varieties that sway beautifully in the wind to low-growing grasses perfect for ground cover and rock gardens, there are so many type to choose from for an instant effect. 

Ornamental grasses are best planted in spring or autumn, so now is the perfect time to update your garden scheme with these beautifully impactful plants. Read on to find out how. 

Find more garden ideas on our dedicated page.

How to plant ornamental grasses

Ornamental grasses couldn't be easier to incorporate into your garden borders – or into a garden pond design. Most grasses will need a sunny spot in well-drained soil and don't need much maintenance. Rushes will tolerate wetter and shadier conditions by a garden pond. 

Simply dig holes exactly the depth of the potted plants you've bought and plant so that the base of the plant is level with the ground. Ornamental grasses need some watering, but not too much, and don't require any feeding. How's that for a low-maintenance plant? 

You can try growing ornamental grasses from seed, too: Luzula, for example, can be grown from seed quite easily. For instant impact in autumn, though, buying plug plants is much easier. 

The best ornamental grasses for your garden 

Ornamental grasses come in a dizzying range of varieties; some grow tall (if you see 'gigantea' in the tile, it's guaranteed to be a tall-growing type), while others stay compact and close to the ground. To really make the most of them in your borders, experiment with a few tall ones in the background and the low-growing ones in the foreground.

It's also worth noting that while many ornamental grasses are deciduous and will completely die back for the winter, others are evergreen, providing invaluable interest for autumn and winter borders. 

Finally, consider the different needs of pond grasses (all the rushes) and land grasses, as they need quite different conditions to thrive. Pond grasses like being partially submerged in water and can tolerate partial shade; land grasses need all the sun they can get and don't like overwatering. So, you won't want to plant these distinct grass types next to each other. 

The following are our favourites, and a couple are favoured by garden presented Monty Don. 

Festuca Glauca Elijah Blue

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For a punch for blue-green colour, try Festuca glauca: its colour is stunning, especially paired with emerald-green succulents or taller shrubs in the background.

Sesleria autumnalis is very useful for adding autumn and winter interest – it's evergreen and tends to add new growth in the autumn months, making it very valuable when most other plants in the garden are beginning to die back. 

Deschampsia Cespitosa

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Deschampsia cespitosa is also known as 'tufted hair grass', and it looks amazing in autumn – the low light we get at this time of year gives it a halo-like appearance. It's evergreen, too. 

Luzula Nivea

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If you have a shady spot to fill in your border, then Luzula nivea is a great choice. It will tolerate even deep shade, but will equally thrive in sunny borders. Attractive foliage that's evergreen – the heads look especially gorgeous covered with frost, hence its common name, 'snowy rush'. 

Juncus effusus

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And if you're looking to plant ornamental grass near a garden pond, we recommend  Juncus effusus and other rushes: their delicate stems add beautiful texture to pond borders. 

Stipa gigantea

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One of Monty Don't top picks from a 2004 Guardian where he called this tall grass 'stunning'. Stipa Gigantea will grow large in any sunny location and is evergreen, providing year-round interest in the garden.

Miscanthus sinensis

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Miscanthus sinensis is another high-impact, tall grass favoured by Monty Don; he writes that the 'flower heads... take a distinctly silverfish turn in autumn'. Will grow up to eight feet tall and is perfect for larger gardens. 

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