Ornamental grasses

Ornamental grasses can be used to great effect in our gardens, from providing a calming presence to more exuberant  flowering plants to being the only focus of the design. There are grasses for damp or dry soil, shady as well as sunny situations. Many are ideal for gravel gardens, prairie planting, wildlife gardens and are great to add to the cutting garden; others perform well in containers.

Ornamental grasses

Quick facts

Common name: Various
Botanical name: Various
Group: Ornamental Grasses
Flowering time: Summer to autumn and seedheads into winter
Planting time: Autumn or spring depending on the grass
Height and spread: From 25cm (10in) to 5m (17ft)
Aspect: There are grasses for both sun and shade
Hardiness: Varying
Difficulty: Easy

Cultivation notes

Ornamental grasses tolerate a wide range of conditions, but most like an open sunny position in light, moist but well-drained, moderately fertile soil.

They do not need much feeding; this can encourage lush foliage at the expense of flowers. One application of a balanced fertiliser in spring is adequate.


It is important to plant grasses at the correct time.

  • Grasses from cool climates such as Deschampsia, Festuca, Helictotrichon and Stipa come into growth in late winter and flower before mid-summer and so should be planted in autumn for the best establishment
  • Grasses from warm climates such as Miscanthus, Panicum and Pennisetum come into growth in late spring, flower after mid-summer and are usually cut back in late winter. They are best planted in late spring

Container cultivation

Grasses are good plants for containers. Use loam-based compost such as John Innes No 2 with 20 percent loam-free compost to lighten the mix. Evergreen grasses such as Carex combine well with winter bedding to give height and a contrast in texture.

Pruning and training

The foliage on deciduous grasses can be left until February for its structure and movement in the depths of winter when any contribution to interest in the garden is welcome.

For advice on when to cut back evergreen and deciduous grasses, see our page ornamental grasses: cutting back.


Division is one of the main ways to increase your stock of grasses. Carrying this out at the right time of year is important:

  • Cool season grasses (those which come into growth early in the year) such as Carex, Calamagrstis, Chasmanthium, Deschampsia, Festuca, Hakonechloa, Molinea and Stipa can be lifted and divided in late winter or early spring
  • Warm season grasses such as Arundo, Cortaderia, Imperata, Miscanthus, Panicum, Pennisetum and Phalaris, which start into growth later in the year, should not be divided until late spring when they are in active growth

Some grasses such as Carex pendula or Anemanthele lessoniana (syn. Stipa arundinacea) seed themselves prolifically to the point of being invasive. For less easy to germinate grasses, collect well-developed flower heads just before the seeds are fully ripe, and ripen them in brown paper bags indoors.

Sow the seeds fresh at a temperature of 10°C (50°F), or store them and sow them in spring.

Cultivar Selection

See Ornamental grasses: selection for a more comprehensive range of plants for specific situations. There are some super grass or grass-like plants to choose from on the RHS Find a plant.

Here are a few top performers:

  • Cortaderia selloana ‘Pumila’ AGM: Pampas grasses have been much maligned, but this smaller cultivar is elegant and mixes well with other perennials and shrubs. Height: 1.5m (5ft)
  • Festuca glauca ‘Elijah Blue’: One of the bluest of fescues, ‘Elijah Blue’ forms a spiky dome. Trim back every few years in March to get rid of dead leaves. Height: 40cm (16in)
  • Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’ AGM: A compact cultivar with slim cream margins to its leaves, this miscanthus is ideal for small gardens and even containers. Height: 1.5m (5ft)
  • Pennisetum villosum AGM: The fluffy rabbits-tail-like seedheads of this grass are an instant attraction. Not the hardiest: needs sun and free drainage for the best results. Height: 60cm (2ft)
  • Stipa tenuissima: The fine blades of this grass dance even in light winds. Cut back in spring for fresh green growth, which ages to soft gold by late summer. Height: 60cm (2ft)
  • Deschampsia cespitosa 'Goldtau’ (syn. 'Golden Dew'): Compact and graceful, this grass has spikes of airy, reddish-brown flowers. Tolerant of shade and damp conditions, it is can be grown in gardens unsuited to many other ornamental grasses. Height: 75cm (30in)


RHS Find a Plant


Ornamental grasses generally suffer from few problems if they are planted in an appropriate position for their needs.

Rust can be largely avoided by dividing overcrowded clumps and allowing better air circulation around the plants. 

Non-flowering is usually caused by insufficient light. Reduce shade from neighbouring shrubs or move the grass to a more open position.

Occasionally, rabbits and voles may be troublesome.

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Browse our range of ornamental grasses from the RHS Plant Shop


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