How to Grow Ornamental Grasses

Add a little prairie chic to your landscape with these eye-catching plants.

  • Choose ornamental grasses that will grow well in your garden conditions.
  • Prepare existing in-ground soil by adding Miracle-Gro® All Purpose Garden Soil.
  • Plant ornamental grasses in full sun (or part shade if that's what the plant requires) in the spring or early fall.
  • Water plants thoroughly at the time of planting and throughout the season as needed.
  • Feed plants with Miracle-Gro® Shake 'n Feed® All Purpose Plant Food 30 days after planting.
  • Cut back plants in late winter to make way for new growth.
  • Divide ornamental grasses when plants become overcrowded or the center dies out.

Ornamental grasses weren't on anyone's radar until the 1990s, when a Dutch designer named Piet Oudolf started promoting them as part of his naturalistic garden designs. Other designers followed suit, and suddenly gardening wasn't gardening without ornamental grasses. Now you'll find lots of choices in nearly any garden center.

Here's why you're going to want to make space for ornamental grasses in your own garden or landscape: They're colorful, have beautiful plume-like flowers, are easy to grow, and add a wonderful feathery texture to your plantings that few other plants can offer. Not every grass is right for every garden, though. Here's how to choose and grow ornamental grasses.

How to Choose Ornamental Grasses

Some ornamental grasses, like pampas grass, grow to be huge. Others, like blue fescue, stay much shorter. There are also varieties, like fountain grass, that can be invasive in some regions—meaning they have the potential to escape the garden and overtake native plants—so be sure to check invasive species lists for your area before purchasing and planting ornamental grasses. (Word to the wise: If it has the potential to become invasive outside your garden, it also has the potential to become a massive weedy headache inside your garden.)

When to Plant Ornamental Grasses

If you're growing annual grasses (varieties that last for just one season), you'll definitely want to plant them in the spring. Perennial grasses (which come back year after year) can be planted in the spring or early fall—with the exception of muhly grass, which won't make it through the winter if planted late in the growing season.

Where to Plant Ornamental Grasses

The two main factors to consider when choosing where to plant ornamental grasses are water and sunlight. In terms of moisture, some varieties do better in well-drained conditions, while others thrive in damp, low spots, so be sure to check the plant tag to know which kind you have. Most ornamental grasses grow best in full sun, but a few varieties can tolerate (or even like) a bit of shade. Japanese forest grass, for example, is the top ornamental grass choice for shady areas and is easy to find at most garden centers.

How to Prepare the Soil for Planting Ornamental Grasses

While most ornamental grasses grow best in slightly moist, well-drained soil, there are some varieties that actually prefer heavy clay soil and wet conditions. (The plant tag will tell you.) When growing a variety that needs lighter soil that drains well, you'll get excellent results by preparing your in-ground planting area with Miracle-Gro® All Purpose Garden Soil. Mix 3 inches of garden soil into the top 6 inches of your existing soil to give your new ornamental grasses a boost of nutrition and just the right environment to build a strong root system.

How to Plant Ornamental Grasses

Spacing is important when you plant ornamental grasses (check the plant tag for recommendations) so they don't end up crowding together or smothering other plants. Lay the plants out, dig a hole, and drop in a Miracle-Gro® Quick Start® Planting Tablet to encourage lots of root growth (be sure to follow label directions). Take one of the plants out of its plastic pot and put it in the hole. Ornamental grasses don't like to be buried, so make sure the root ball is about ½ inch higher than the surrounding soil. Fill in around the root ball and water deeply, counting to 10 before you stop. Repeat with the remaining plants.

How to Water Ornamental Grasses

Except for the water-loving varieties, most ornamental grasses won't need extra water once they've become established. Water every other day after planting, gradually extending the time between watering. After 2 or 3 weeks, watering twice a week should be plenty. After grasses have been in the ground for a year, you shouldn't need to water them unless your area hasn't had rain for more than 3 weeks.

How to Feed Ornamental Grasses

A month after planting, give your new ornamental grasses a nutritious meal of Miracle-Gro® Shake 'n Feed® All Purpose Plant Food to keep them growing strong. Shake evenly onto the soil, work into the top 1 to 3 inches of soil, then water well. Don't forget to read the label to know how much and how often to fertilize.

What to Do with Ornamental Grasses in Winter

Allow perennial ornamental grasses to stand in the garden through the winter. They provide great visual interest in the landscape, as well as food and cover for wildlife. Cut them back to the ground in late winter before the plants start to grow again.

How to Divide Ornamental Grasses

Sometimes perennial ornamental grass clumps that have been in the garden for a while will die out in the middle or simply become too large for the space they're growing in. You can solve either issue by dividing them in early spring. Right after the plants start to grow, dig them up, cut the clumps in half (remove any dead parts), and replant or give them to friends. Simple!