11 Ornamental Grasses for Better Fall Gardens

by Lisa Watters-Lain, Arizona’s garden gal

Mountain gardens are famous for flamboyant autumn grasses in the landscape. This is the season you’ll find the most exotic options for gardens. From short spreading grass to big, bold pampas grass, this is their time to shine. Treat ornamental grasses like you would a tree or shrub; put them on the same irrigation and watch them thrive for years to come.

Whether grouped in clusters or planted singly as focal points, ornamental grasses add instant texture and form to the garden. The grasses listed here are beneficial for adding an autumn glow, and many look great right through winter.

Blue Oat Grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens) forms a tidy porcupine-like clump in the garden. The beautiful blue colors show all season, with beige panicles through autumn. Blue oat grass can remain evergreen through mild winters.

Feather Reed Grass (Calamagrostis acutiflora) loves spring and is one of the first ornamental grasses to shoot up from the garden in spring and plume. “Karl Foerster” shows red plumes summer through fall, with “Overdam” showing golden.

Flame Grass (Miscanthus sinensis) can be a very flashy addition in autumn. Eye candy in the perennial garden with blazing red flowers all fall. Sometimes referred to as Maiden Grass, every yard should have at least one.

Fountain Grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides) are some of the most reliable and attractive ornamentals you can grow. “Rubrum” keeps its red color all season. “Moudry” is another good choice for fall color, with green leaves as its flowers change to burgundy.Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa macra) looks genuine any time of year. The golden yellow colors show well against all the purple, rust, and reds in the fall garden. This is an easy-to-maintain grass with a weeping habit for extra drama.

Pheasant tail grass (Anemanthele lessoniana) is an open grass, ready to sway and flow in the slightest breeze. It’s also known as gossamer grass or New Zealand wind grass. In fall, the leaf blades become tinged with copper streaks that reflect the sun. This is the perfect grass for the lower mountain gardens (below 5,000 feet elevation).Pink Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) grows hip-high and very flashy. The foliage is covered in pink flower heads that catch every breeze, adding a cloud of soft pink to the garden summer through fall. It’s very tough, even on the windiest mountain hilltops.

Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis) has thin, airy leaves that weep and flow in the garden. The leaves can turn almost pumpkin orange in fall.

Red Hood Sedge (Uncinia uncinate) is a well-behaved sedge. The plant is small, growing only about a foot in all directions, but it has a glowing bronze color all season and shows off all the more in autumn. The perfect sedge for the lower mountain gardens below 5,000 feet elevation.

Red Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum) starts to change from green to red early in the growing season, and by fall, it’s on fire. “Shenandoah” is the shortest, slowest-growing, and showiest of all the red switch grasses.Tall Moor Grass (Molinia caerulea) grows foliage three feet tall, then shoots up delicate six-foot flower stalks. Its narrow width and tall flowers make it perfect for small gardens. The flowers turn aspen gold through autumn.

You will find the best selection of ornamental grasses now through fall here at Watters Garden Center. Now is the best time to add new ornamentals to your garden.

Garden Tip: autumn sparks the most critical feeding of the year for everything in the garden, especially fruit trees, shrubs, and the native evergreens in the landscape. Before Thanksgiving, spread Watters 7-4-4 All Purpose Plant Food around all your essential plants, especially lawns and the ornamental grasses in the yard. This promotes better rest through winter and sets the stage for more extensive growth in spring.

Until next issue, I’ll be helping locals choose perfect grasses here at Watters Garden Center.

Throughout the week, Lisa Watters-Lain can be found at Watters Garden Center, 1815 W. Iron Springs Road in Prescott, or contacted through her website at WattersGardenCenter.com or Top10Grasses.com.