Bold and eye-catching, ornamental grasses are common in a huge range of landscapes. Although they’re great to showcase in your yard or garden, there are plenty of low growing ornamental grasses to consider. While they stay on the smaller side, they can still make a welcome statement. These short grasses provide movement, texture, and contrasting colors in your space without overwhelming it. Low growing ornamental grasses fit in much better in small or medium-sized gardens or yards since the full-sized versions can easily reach over 20 feet high.
The sheer size of these full-sized ornamental grasses are unnecessary for a lot of landscape designs or homes. Low growing ornamental grasses tend to top out at three feet high at the most, and the smaller size makes them great additions to balconies, containers, patios, and more. We’ll outline 25 great low growing ornamental grasses for you to consider below.
Choosing Low Growing Ornamental Grasses
When someone mentions ornamental grasses, this includes four families. These families are real grasses, sedges, rushes, and reeds. Although you may assume they’re similar at a glance, they each spread and grow differently and have separate growing conditions. Taking time to look at your options will help guarantee you get the correct type of low growing ornamental grasses that stay smaller, and this makes the difference between the plants blending well with the space or taking over. With the sheer number of options to choose from, always begin by looking at the sizes.
Size is often a critical factor because you want your low growing ornamental grass to fit into the space you have available. After that, consider the type of grass and what you want to use it for. Do you want to create a unique pattern with your landscape design or help with erosion? How do the plants benefit your location? Finally, make sure your grasses grow in your climate and you can provide adequate conditions for them to thrive all season long.
1. Bamboo (Bambusa sp. or Phyllostachys sp.)
It’s very easy for you to forget that bamboo actually falls into a grass family category since it grows to look like trees. Bamboo spreads very aggressively and grows in an upright manner, and it requires a regular watering schedule during the first growing season to allow it to establish itself. This is when it grows the extreme, deep root system. Bamboo is native to China, and it was first introduced to the Western world in the mid-19th century.
Bamboo naturally grows in warm climates, but you can also find cold-hardy varieties like Nuda or Bisetti that are hardy to zone four. This plant is hardy from zone four and up, depending on the cultivar you pick. In colder areas, the canes will die back in the winter and come back in the spring, and they require partial shade and a slightly acidic, loose, and well-drained soil to be happy. There are a few shorter varieties that make great low growing ornamental grasses.
2. Blue Oat Grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens)
Blue Oat Grass originates in Europe, and it produces blue-green, dense foliage. It looks very similar to Blue Fescue, but it is slightly larger at 30-inches tall. Flowers will bloom on this low growing ornamental grass at the leaf tips that have seed heads, and they turn light brown shades in the fall months. Blue Oat Grass is hardy in zones four to nine. It prefers to be planted in well-draining, moist soil, but it can tolerate clay-based or sandy soils without an issue too. Put these grasses two feet apart in an area that gets partial shade to full sun and watch it thrive over the summer months.
3. Burgundy Bunny (Pennisetum alopecuroides)
This perennial low growing ornamental grass tops out at 16 inches wide and 12 to 16 inches tall at full maturity, and this makes it great for smaller garden plans. They start out bright green in the spring and early summer months before slowly turning red as the season progresses before ending up a bold crimson in autumn.
It can complement a broad range of landscapes, and it’s a very adaptable choice. You can use it in large quantities or as a single specimen, and it’s great for adding texture, contrast, and color to your flower borders or beds. It looks stunning placed near ponds or streams as the water will reflect the shape.
4. Chinese Fountain Grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides)
Chinese fountain grass is also a low growing ornamental grass, and they will work to add softer textures to your landscape by offering pink and purple flowers on arching foliage late in the summer. These small grasses or shrubs make a great choice to fill in borders, flower beds, container gardens, or rock gardens, and the dry foliage during the winter months adds interest and texture all year-round.
You want to add a type of organic matter to the soil before you plant this low growing ornamental grass, like dead leaves or grass clippings. Also, spread a two-inch layer of mulch around the plant’s base to protect the roots. When you first plant it, water them every day for a few weeks before gradually dropping back to every two or three days. Prune the foliage as necessary to keep it looking neat, and cut the blooms once they start to fade.
5. Dwarf Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon japonicus)
This is a very slow-spreading evergreen ground covering that forms a cushiony, lush turn with blue berries and white flowers. This low growing ornamental grass will only get a foot tall at full maturity, so it works along border fronts or in rock gardens. It’s perfect for groundcovers in bare areas in your yard, and you want to plant it with organic matter in spring and fall. Water the grass every day for two weeks after you plant it, then cut back to watering as needed. If the soil is sandy, water them more frequently. Snip away any faded blooms and prune the foliage periodically throughout the season.
6. Egyptian Papyrus (Cyperus papyrus)
You may hear this low growing ornamental grass referred to as African native grass, and it fits nicely into this category. This is an exotic plant that gets between 24 and 60 inches tall, and they like moist soil. However, they can also thrive and get larger planted in a water garden. In regions that don’t experience freezing temperatures, this grass acts like a perennial. It grows best in zones 8 to 11 in full sun, and the soil should be very rich and wet to keep it happy.
7. Elijah Blue Fescue (Festuca glauca)
Elijah Blue Fescue is a very popular low growing ornamental grass as it offers icy blue foliage and pastel yellow flowers. People love these narrow ornamental grasses that are on the smaller side for their versatility and unique textures as companion plants. It’s hardy in zones four to eight, and it gets a foot tall and six to nine inches wide. You want to plant it in well-draining soil, but it can tolerate poor soil conditions well. Pick a spot around your yard that gets plenty of sun to highlight the foliage color, and space every clump roughly 10 inches apart.
8. Evergold Sedge (Carex oshimensis)
Evergold Sedge and Japanese Sedge are very closely related low growing ornamental grasses. They grow in low mounds that top out at 16 inches tall and wide. In natural habitats, they tend to grow in dry woods or alongside rocky slopes. In the southern portion of the United States, this plant is considered to be an evergreen, so it keeps most of the foliage all year-round. It grows well in partial shade in wet soils, and the color actually comes out more in shaded spots than in the sun, but it can tolerate mild sun too. You can use it as a groundcover plant in shaded spots along edges or borders.
9. Feather Reed Grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora)
Feather reed grass tends to grow in dense clumps that form narrow, erect green leaves that top out at three feet high. This low growing ornamental grass produces feathery, purplish-pink flower spikes that grow above the foliage during the summer months. It has a two-foot spread, and this grass needs above-average moisture conditions to thrive. Also, unlike many of the other ornamental grasses you can buy, this one doesn’t mind being in slow-growing heavy clay soil. If you have a rain garden in your yard and you’re looking for a medium-height, low-maintenance screening plant that tolerates partial shade, this is a great pick. This grass prefers to get consistently moist soil, so you’ll have to water it regularly. Cut it back in the fall or early spring months to promote healthy, new growth.
10. Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum)
As a very popular ornamental, this low growing ornamental grass is very popular with landscapers and gardeners. It produces a fuzzy, soft bloom that makes a statement. It also works well with a huge range of plants, but it doesn’t like colder winters. So, you want to grow this grass if you live in zones seven or up. It gets roughly two feet wide and three feet tall at full maturity, and it requires very little effort from you to keep it looking nice once it establishes. You can plant fountain grass at any point, but they work best when you do so in the spring. Put them in well-draining soil in a sunny location. Because they’re very tolerant to drought, water them every week or two.
11. Japanese Blood Grass (Imperata cylindrica ‘Rubra’)
Japanese blood grass is a very colorful yellow, red, and green low growing ornamental grass that is native to India, Southeast Asia, Australia, Africa, Melanesia, and Micronesia. It produces upright clumps that spread slowly underground using runners. It grows best when you put it in rich, damp soil, and it likes a lot of water during the hottest months of summer. If the soil is too dry, this plant will slowly fade and die. Some regions do consider it invasive, so you want to double-check before you plant it, and you may hear it called Cogon grass. It grows best in zones five to nine in partial shade to full sun, and it needs well-drained but moist soil.
- HappyDIYHome Note – Imperata cylindrica is an invasive species that, according to U.S. federal law, is illegal to grow without a permit. However, the ‘Rubra’ cultivar is relatively less aggressive and is sold in garden centers in many cold-winter areas, where it is easier to control than in warmer zones.3 To be safe, confirm that your state’s laws permit use of this grass before buying or planting it.
12. Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa macra)
This low growing ornamental grass is best known for thriving in shady spots in forest gardens. It has very distinct variegated leaves that make it very easy to recognize. This grass originates in mountains in Japan, and it’s hardy to zone four. They will eventually form very pretty cascading mounds of texture that can spill over retaining walls or stand out in your garden. The clumps get two feet wide and tall, and it enjoys being in well-draining, humus-rich soil.
Keep the soil evenly moist at the beginning of the growing season and during the hotter months of the year. This option has very few disease or pest problems, and it’s deer-resistant. Divide the clumps during the spring once you see new foliage emerging. It adds a little something extra when you plant it underneath evergreen trees or other short hardy tree specimens, and it does wonderfully with very little sunlight.
13. Japanese Sedge (Carex morrowii)
Sedge is a very pretty low growing ornamental grass that is very beginner-friendly. This option is a clumping plant that produces variegated, arching foliage. It gets roughly a foot tall and wide and reaches the maximum size in two or three years. Japanese sedge requires full sun to partial shade and rich but moist soil to thrive. It looks lovely when you plant it under shrubs or trees, and it’s hardy in zones five to nine. You don’t have to prune it for health reasons, but you can prune it to enhance how the overall look of the foliage displays.
14. Hameln Fountain Grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides)
A dwarf fountain grass variety, this low growing ornamental grass has tan seed heads that will turn a pretty pink color in the fall to add a fun touch next to your flowers and shrubs. You can keep it in containers too, and they can be fantastic vessels to showcase the arching, fountain-like blades. This variety thrives in full sun on zones 4 to 11, and it only needs the occasional watering session in hot weather. Also, it resists deer and draws birds in, so you’ll attract pollinators without inviting critters in to eat your plants.
15. Lilyturf (Liriope muscari)
You may hear this low growing ornamental grass called monkey grass or liriope. This is a nice ground cover plant that is low maintenance and tough, and they’re perfect for garden beds or edging. It looks like regular grass, but it has unique purple flowers to set it apart. It grows well in clay or sandy soil in full sun or partial shade. The only requirement for this plant is that it has to have well-draining soil. Space each plant 12 inches apart as this is a creeping plant that will spread. Lilyturf is very tolerant to drought once it establishes, but new plants require regular watering sessions.
16. Little Bunny (Pennisetum alopecuroides)
Little Bunny is a very low growing ornamental grass that gets between 20 and 24 inches wide and 16 to 20 inches tall. It’s ideal for compact gardens due to the smaller size. They are darker green during the summer, switch to gold in the fall, and fade to a beige color in the winter. The colorful foliage is stunning until the first hard frost of the year. Looking like tiny foxtails, the white flowers spike from the leaves in mid-summer. They make pretty cut flowers for dried and fresh arrangements. They look nice in containers, rock gardens, besides streams or ponds, and in front of a border.
17. Lucerne Blue-Eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium)
This low growing ornamental grass is a wildflower that falls into the Iris family. It’s native to North America, and this plant forms dense clumps with bold light purple flowers that attract bees and birds. It gets 16 inches tall and wide, and it’s hardy in zones four to nine. You can put it in borders, rock gardens, or containers to showcase the look, and make sure it’s in partial shade. It tolerates virtually any pH levels, but it does best in moist, average soil. Divide your flower clumps in late winter or early spring every two or three years to keep the plant healthy and compact.
18. New Zealand Flax (Phormium tenax)
Just like fountain grass, this low growing ornamental grass has become very popular in commercial and residential applications. It has a brownish-purple, deep red coloring, and the leaves are more strap-like and broad than the fountain grass’s finer leaves. It can get two to four feet wide and up to three feet tall, so it’s one of the bigger options on the list. You have to divide the clumps every few years, even if this is a challenging process. Plant it in zones 8 to 10 in part shade to full sun in well-drained but rich soil.
19. Ogon (Acorus gramineus)
This is a dwarf plant that grows grass-like, variegated leaf blades that are between 6 and 12 inches with a green and yellow pattern on them that looks more yellow than anything else. It has small greenish-yellow flowers that slowly turn to small red berries in early summer. You can use this versatile plant in several ways, and it works well in rain gardens, water gardens, pond or stream margins, as a ground cover, or in bogs. You can use it as an aquarium plant or to help reduce erosion by streams.
20. Pink Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris)
You’ll want to make room in your garden or yard for this late-season showstopper. The pink flowers are followed by purple seeds, and they add a welcome splash of color to your fall garden when your perennials and annuals have started to die back. They’re tolerant of drought, heat, humidity, and salt, and it gets up to 36 inches tall and looks lovely planted en masse. It’s a native perennial low growing ornamental grass that provides shelter and food for birds and butterflies.
21. Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis)
Native in zones three to nine, this low growing ornamental perennial is adaptable, but it tends to grow best in well-draining soils under full sun. It produces tufts of fine leaves that get three feet wide and two feet tall, and it adds interest through the winter months and attracts pollinators. The flowers come around in the fall, and they’re followed by seed heads that look like gems when they get a coating of ice. You can use it as a fountain grass substitute, and it forms a very pretty grass carpet that works well in natural or prairie gardens.
22. Purple Millet (Pennisetum glaucum)
Purple millet grass is grown in Africa and Asia and a cereal grain, and it offers stunning purple-hued foliage with a huge seed spike. If you leave it on the plant, this seed spike will attract birds to the area. The low growing ornamental grass tops out at three feet, and it’s hardy up to zone seven. It’s very attractive in mass plantings or for use as a focal point. Put it in an area that gets full sun and has a soil that drains well in the early spring months. Apply a layer of mulch around these plants and add organic compost to the ground to help it thrive.
23. Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum)
Switchgrass offers pretty blue foliage in the spring months with golden flowers in the mid to late summer months. During the fall months, the foliage turns a beige-golden hue. These low growing ornamental grasses grow in clumps that get up to four feet tall, and they look very nice planted alongside streams or koi ponds. They prefer to be in an area that gets full sun and well-draining but moist soil. Once they establish, Switchgrasses are soggy-soil and drought tolerant. Cut the old foliage off to the ground during the winter or in the early spring months.
24. The Blues (Schizachyrium scoparium)
You find this low growing ornamental grass growing in fields, prairies, hillsides, clearings, roadways, limestone glades, open woods, and in waste areas from Florida and Arizona to Quebec to Alberta. They get between two and four inches tall, and they grow in 14-inch wide clumps with blue-tinted, delicate foliage. It has pink-hued stems that are slightly taller and stiff, and the foliage turns a deep burgundy red in the fall months. In August, it produces three-inch long racemes of bronze-purple flowers that develop on stalks and tower over the foliage. The silver-white, airy seed heads can last into the winter months.
25. Tufted Hair Grass (Deschampsia cespitosa)
The final low growing ornamental grass on the list features hair-like, fine greenish-blue grass that grows in tight clumps later in the spring months. It turns a golden color as the season progresses. It typically stays roughly a foot tall, so it’s great for less spacious areas or containers. It has a very low-maintenance nature to it, and it loves to be in partial shade. Tufted hair grass makes a fantastic companion to ferns, and it can grow in zones four to eight where it’ll attract butterflies to the area.
Low growing ornamental grasses aren’t usually what comes to mind when you want to make a statement in your garden or landscape design. However, you shouldn’t pass them by. Some of the smallest plants can make a huge impact and transform your space. When you take the time to find the correct match for your needs and climate, your low growing ornamental grasses will pay off and reward you all season long.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.