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Growing Green: Grasses for Your Ornamental Garden

I have recently discovered ornamental grasses. I may seem like a late-comer to those of you who already grow these garden wonders, but the texture, season extension and utter majesty of these plants make them a must try. Not sold yet? Consider that ornamental grasses provide a variety of shapes, textures and colors, are low maintenance, drought tolerant, add year round interest to your garden bed, and are DEER RESISTANT!!! (cha-ching!)

Several varieties are suitable for our northern climate, including:

Blue Fescue: Hardy to zone 3, this short, 10" grass does well in full sun to partial shade. Its small, spiky blue mounds work along the edge of perennial borders, around stepping stones and in rock gardens. They prefer well drained soil. Try cultivars such as 'Elijah Blue' or 'Solling'

Hakone Grass: Perennial plant of the year in 2009, golden Hakone grass is technically perennial to hardiness zone 5, however it has shown success in protected zone 4 sites when covered with mulch after the ground freezes. Planted in a shady garden bed, this 12-24" tall plant lights up the dark with its lemon/chartreuse striped leaves. It prefers a moist, rich soil. Cultivar, 'Aureola'.

Little Bluestem: Hardy to Zone 3, this grass grows 2-4' tall in full sun. It is a native prairie grass that makes an excellent focal point in a perennial bed. Cultivar 'The Blues'.

Ribbon Grass: Another zone 3 grass, ribbon grass grows from 18" to 3' tall depending on the cultivar, and is tolerant of most growing conditions. It can be invasive, but works quite well in locations where nothing else will grow. If included in a perennial bed, plant in a sunken container to prevent the spread of rhizomes. Try 'Strawberries and Cream' or 'Picta'.

Miscanthus: I will be trying several varieties of Miscanthus next year! I just love the look of this tall grass with its feathery white seed head. Try 'Malpartus', 'Silberfeder', 'red flame' or 'silver banner'.

Tufted Hair Grass: Grows 3-4' tall in sun or part shade and prefers moist soil. This native grass possesses delicate seed heads that give it a lacey appearance. The golden hue of 'Schottland' is a nice accent in your mixed perennial bed.

For more information on growing ornamental grasses in Minnesota, visit our website at If you have a favorite grass that you have grown let me know at 320-762-3890 or email me at

Robin Trott is a Horticulture Educator with University of Minnesota Extension.