Graceful arching seedheads of Miscanthus nepalensis

How to grow ornamental grasses

Find out all how to plant, divide and care for ornamental grasses in our expert Grow Guide.

A table displaying which months are best to sow, plant and harvest.
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Plant
Plant

Do not Plant in January

Do not Plant in February

Do Plant in March

Do Plant in April

Do Plant in May

Do Plant in June

Do Plant in July

Do Plant in August

Do Plant in September

Do not Plant in October

Do not Plant in November

Do not Plant in December

Flowers
Flowers

Plant does not flower in January

Plant does not flower in February

Plant does not flower in March

Plant does not flower in April

Plant does not flower in May

Plant does flower in June

Plant does flower in July

Plant does flower in August

Plant does flower in September

Plant does flower in October

Plant does not flower in November

Plant does not flower in December

Cut back
Cut back

Do not Cut back in January

Do not Cut back in February

Do Cut back in March

Do Cut back in April

Do Cut back in May

Do Cut back in June

Do Cut back in July

Do not Cut back in August

Do not Cut back in September

Do not Cut back in October

Do not Cut back in November

Do not Cut back in December

Ornamental grasses have seen a huge increase in popularity over the last decade. They’re highly valued as low-maintenance plants and many grow well in poor soil. They provide interest for most, if not all of the year. Grasses are hardy, resistant to pests and diseases and are quick growing.

Advertisement

There is an ornamental grass for nearly every garden situation. Plants can be annual or perennial, evergreen or deciduous, and range in height from 30cm to about 4m. They are often used to create a breathing space in busy flower borders, for container displays or as specimen plants.

How to grow ornamental grasses

Plant ornamental grasses in spring or autumn. There are many types, all with different growing requirements – some do best in moist but well-drained soil, others prefer dry or water-retentive soil. Most grasses do best in sun but some will tolerate shade. Make sure you’re growing the right grass for the right spot. Cut back deciduous grasses in spring and ‘comb out’ dead leaves of evergreen types. Divide congested clumps in spring.

More on ornamental grasses:


Where to plant ornamental grasses

Blue-green foliage of Festuca glauca
Blue-green foliage of Festuca glauca

With so many varied ornamental grasses to choose from there is a plant for every position. For a really hot, dry spot grow Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ or a festuca. For a shady site and water retentive soil choose a milium or acorus. For a coastal garden cortaderia is ideal and for grasses to grow as marginals by the pond try juncus or Carex pendula.

Taller grasses do best a sheltered position as this will prevent their long flower spikes from being damaged by wind. If planting grasses in a container use a soil-based compost such as John Innes no 2.

For a prairie-style planting, plant grasses and perennials together in drifts, in a sunny border. This creates a natural look, offering movement and colour throughout the season.


How to plant ornamental grasses

Planting an ornamental grass
Planting an ornamental grass

Ornamental grasses can be planted all year round but ideally plant them in spring or autumn. For grasses that do best in a dry soil, improve drainage by digging in horticultural grit before planting.

Dig a planting hole, place the plant in the hole so it’s planted at the same depth as it was in the original pot, backfill and firm in. Water plants in well. Grasses do not need regular feeding.

Watch Monty Don plant Stipa tenuissima in a sunny border at Longmeadow, and explain how to encourage it to thrive:


How to care for ornamental grasses

Cutting back deciduous grass

Deciduous grasses should be cut back in early March. Tidy up all evergreens by pulling old stems out of the plant. Wear gloves when ‘combing’ grasses as some grasses are sharp.

Here, Stanley Crabtree of Eversley Nursery reveals his three golden rules for growing ornamental grasses:

In this video, Monty tidies up ornamental grasses in spring, for a beautiful display in summer. Learn about the different types of ornamental grass, as he explains how to clear spent leaves of both deciduous and evergreen varieties, as well as offering tips on when and how to use gloves:


How to propagate ornamental grasses

Dividing Nassella tenuissima

Ornamental grasses can be divided in early spring. Very mature clumps are often tricky to lift, so have a friend on hand to help. In order to divide large clumps push two garden forks into the crown of the plant back to back and pull the handles down.

Watch Monty Don as he splits a large Calamagrostis and replants the divisions:

You can also grow ornamental grasses from seed. In this video Monty Don takes you through the process of sowing grasses in modular trays indoors, and suggests a selection of prairie-style plants to complement the grasses, including ever-popular Verbena bonariensis.

Some grasses, such as Nassella tenuissima, self-seed readily. Look out for the seedlings and pot them on.


Growing ornamental grasses: problem solving

Tall seedheads of Stipa gigantea
Tall seedheads of Stipa gigantea

Grasses are trouble-free and don’t attract pests or diseases.


Great ornamental grass varieties to grow

Fluffy flowerheads of Pennisetum villosum
Fluffy flowerheads of Pennisetum villosum
Advertisement
  • Micanthus ‘Flamingo’ – a popular, deciduous grass with late summer, pink flower plumes. Ideal for a sunny spot. Reaches 2m
  • Acorus variegatus – an attractive, evergreen, variegated grass. Grows well in average to moist soil in sun or part shade. Height 25cm
  • Briza ‘Golden Bee’ – stunning flower heads in summer. A golden, semi-evergreen grass that thrives in sun or light shade. Reaches a height of 50cm
  • Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ – a striking deciduous grass with a wonderful architectural habit. Plentiful flower stems that stand up well without support. Ideal for a sunny spot. Height 1.8m
  • Stipa tenuissima (now called Nassella tenuissima) – a popular evergreen grass with soft, fine foliage and flowers. Moves well in the wind. Enjoys a sunny, well-drained spot. Height 50cm. Self-seeds readily
  • Pennisetum villosum (pictured) – a deciduous perennial grass with bunny-tail like flowers that you can’t resist stroking. 60cm