5 Popular Ornamental Grasses for a Prettier Winter Garden

by | Updated: Jun 1, 2021

5 popular ornamental grasses for winter interest and beauty

Put your hand up if want a pretty winter garden!

In my last tip, we chatted about how ornamental grasses can make your winter garden look good. Ornamental grasses add “winter interest,” and they’re easy to grow. (Yesss!)

But how are you supposed to know which grasses to pick?

They look similar, right?

In today’s tip, I want to give you a peek at 5 popular ornamental grasses — and what they look like in winter gardens.

That way, you can start figuring out which ones you like.

Please note, if the conditions are right, some grasses will spread their seeds like a fairy godmother tossing pixie dust. So, there are parts of the country where some of these grasses may be considered invasive. When you buy grasses, ask the store whether they’re allowed where you live.

Maiden Grass (Miscanthus sinensis)

In my opinion, maiden grass is one of the showiest winter grasses.

Maiden grass is a showy ornamental grass in winter

Maiden grasses often have soft, feathery plumes.

In the winter, their plumes look like fluffy feathers spilling out of a pillow.

They glow in the winter sun.

Some varieties of maiden grass can grow up to 5 to 6 feet tall and nearly as wide, so plan accordingly when you’re deciding where to plant this grass.

You may be happiest with it if you have a garden or landscape where you have a wider space to fill.

Close-up of maiden grass plumes in winter

Maiden grass likes regular watering.

Same size… less water. If you’re thinking, “Ooooh, I like this size of this ornamental grass, but I want a grass that doesn’t need as much water,” check out giant sacaton instead. It’s about the same size as maiden grass, but it thrives with very little moisture.

Feather Reed Grass (Calamagrostis)

Feather reed grass is another grass that glows in a winter garden.

Feather reed grass is a popular ornamental grass that looks good in the winter

There is one type of feather reed grass — known as ‘Karl Foerster’ (pictured above) — that is VERY popular. You’ll see it in landscaping around homes, as well as around shopping centers. It’s more drought-tolerant than other types of feather reed grass.

Do you recognize this grass from your neighbors’ landscapes?

Feather reed grass grows in an upright direction (like a column), making it a good grass for a smaller garden or a garden with limited space.

It’s also very pretty against a darker background like a stained fence.

Karl Foerster feather reed grass looks pretty against dark backgrounds in the winter

Blue Grama Grass ‘Blonde Ambition’ (Bouteloua gracilis)

These ornamental grasses have horizontal seed heads that look like eyelashes.

Blue grama grass is a pretty winter grass in Colorado gardens

Aren’t they so cool?

They hold up very well to winter snowstorms.

Blue Grama is the state grass of Colorado, and it’s drought tolerant. It happily grows in areas that get just 10 to 15 inches of annual rainfall.

That’s not very much!

So, these ornamental grasses could be a great fit for you if:

  • You have a dry, sunny spot in your landscape that doesn’t get much moisture
    (like a hot, western-facing or southern-facing section of your yard)
  • You’re planning a low-water garden (aka, a “waterwise” garden)
  • You’re known to forget to water (no judgment!)

Water this grass well the first season. This helps it get established in your garden.

After that, it shouldn’t require much attention from you.

Pro tip: If your garden or landscape gets regular moisture or has a wetter area, blue grama grass may not be the right ornamental grass for you. My understanding is moisture can turn it into a happy seed spreader.

Blue grama grass is a drought tolerant grass with seedheads that look like eyelashes

Hardy Pampas Grass (Erianthus ravennae)

Hardy pampas grass is a big guy!

It can grow 10-12 feet tall and 4-6 feet wide.

To show you how tall it can grow, I asked my pawtner-in-crime to join me in the photo below. She wasn’t as excited about the photo opp as I was.

Hardy pampas grass towers in winter gardens, adding height and winter interest

Pampas grass is an interesting grass to consider if you have:

  • A big yard that could use a focal point
  • A deep garden that could use some height in the back
  • An area of your yard where you want to draw your eyes away from something (like an electrical pole)

If you like the look of this ornamental grass but it’s too big for your garden, there are smaller versions of pampas grass too.

Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum)

Switch grass may not be the showiest grass for a winter garden.

However, it’s one of my favorite grasses in the summer and fall, so I can’t resist including it on this list.

Switch grass in the winter, creating interest in a western garden

Some types of switch grass prefer more water than others.

If you’d like a more drought-resistant type, look for the switch grass known as ‘Shenandoah.’ In the fall, its leaf blades turn burgundy.

It gets delicate, pink seed heads in the fall. They lose their color in the winter, but they still have a lovely airiness to them.

Closeup of switch grass seeds with snow in the background

Related tips that may interest you:

Help your friends up their winter garden game too!

If you have friends who’d like a prettier winter garden, please share this article.

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Hey there, I'm Ann

I’m a Certified Colorado Gardener, dog mama and Midwesterner-turned-Colorado girl. I help budding gardeners in the intermountain west get more confident with flower gardening, so you can create an outdoor space you love. More about Ann >>

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