10 Ornamental Grasses for Winter Interest

Ornamental grasses accent a garden any time of year, but they might just be at their most imposing in the doldrums of winter. When there is little on view but the skeletons of your garden, ornamental grasses provide structure, texture and drama to the gardenscape.

Here are 10 of the best ornamental grasses and grass-like plants for winter interest. Many even do double duty by attracting birds to your winter garden, by providing shelter and food.

  • 01 of 10

    Acorus calamus, Sweet Flag

    Sweet Flag (Acorus calamus)
    Barbara Tokarska-Guzik, University of Silesia, Bugwood.org

    Though not a true grass, Sweet Flag is a native North American perennial, grown for its grass-like foliage. The leaves are fragrant when crushed. Varieties can range from a low growing clump to 6 feet tall. They benefit from regular watering. USDA Hardiness Zones 3-10

  • 02 of 10

    Alopecurus pratensis ‘Aureus’, Yellow Foxtail Grass

    The Foxtails are cool season grasses, blooming in early summer. Although they spread by rhyzomes and can be aggressive in some areas, they are generally slow to move. Maximum height is about 12 inches. Extremely hardy. USDA Hardiness Zones 4-8

  • 03 of 10

    Andropogon gerardii, Big Bluestem

    Many grasses in the genus Andropogon are native to North America. They are warm season grasses, blooming late in the season. A. gerardii is one of the hardier varieties. It is the official prairie grass of Illinois. The flower stalks grown in 3-pronged branches, giving it its nickname of ‘Turkey Foot’. It can easily grow to 8'. USDA Hardiness Zones 4-7
  • 04 of 10

    Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ , Feather Reed Gra

    Calamagrosits is one of the most ornamental of the grasses and ‘Karl Foerster’ was the first grass to be named ‘Perennial Plant of the Year’. Some cultivars in the genus are frost-tender. In addition to Karl Foerster, the variegated ‘Overdam’ is a good winter selection. USDA Hardiness Zones 4-9
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  • 05 of 10

    Carex muskingumensis, Palm Sedge

    Carex aren’t true grasses. True grasses have hollow, cylindrical stems. ‘Sedges have edges’ or solid, triangular stems and spiky flower heads.

    Palm Sedge has thin, yellow margins on its 2'-3' long green leaves. It can handle drought, excessive moisture, sun and shade AND it’s not invasive. USDA Hardiness Zones 4-9

  • 06 of 10

    Helictotrichon sempervirens, Blue Oat Grass

    Another cool season, early bloomer. Helictotrichon is drought tolerant and prefers a well drained soil. It has blue foliage, as the name implies, and can grow to about 3' tall. Looks great massed, but works equally well as an accent plant.USDA Hardiness USDA Hardiness Zones 4-8
  • 07 of 10

    Hystrix patula, Bottlebrush Grass

    Another great North American Native, Bottlebrush Grass is a good choice for dry shade. The seedheads on this woodland grass really do look like bottle brushes. It can reach a height of 3'-5'. USDA Hardiness Zones 4-9
  • 08 of 10

    Miscanthus sinensis ‘Silberfeder’ , Silver Feather Maiden Grass

    Maiden Grass is graceful and delicate with large, showy flower heads. They seem to shimmer when hit by back lighting. Miscanthus like moist conditions, but are adaptable. Other good cultivars to try are: ‘Arabesque’, ‘Autumn Light’, ‘Cabaret’ and ‘Morning Light’. USDA Hardiness Zones 5-9
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  • 09 of 10

    Panicum virgatum, Switch Grass

    Switch Grass is a tough prairie native. They can get to about 4'-5' tall and grow in a columnar fashion, rather than out, like a fountain grass. There are some excellent cultivars available including: ‘’Cloud Nine’, ‘Heavy Metal’ and ‘Prairie Sky’. USDA Hardiness Zones 5-9
  • 10 of 10

    Sorghastrum nutans, Indian Grass

    Indian Grass tends to be quite tall, 6+ feet, but sturdy, with roots that can support its height. It tolerates a range of conditions and is a host plant for the Skipper butterfly. USDA Hardiness Zones 3-9