Whether mounding or upright, ornamental grasses bring architectural interest to landscapes. These plants--including rushes and sedges as well as traditional grasses--have subtle or vivid colors, from nearly white to almost black, and numerous shades in between. They may be ground covers just a few inches high or towering stands of bamboo. Easy-care, cold-tolerant and eye-catching, ornamental grasses are versatile garden performers, according to the University of Minnesota's Sustainable Urban Landscape Information Series.
Mondo Grass 'Gyoku-Ryu'
Standing from 1 to 2 inches high, mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus) "Gyoku-ryu" has a 1-foot spread. An attractive ground cover for confined areas, it has arching, pointed bright green leaves. They often conceal its stalks of June and July lavender flowers, says the Missouri Botanical Garden. Although hardy to 0 degrees Fahrenheit, it benefits from winter mulch where temperatures fall below 10 degrees F. Give this insect-and-disease-resistant grass a partly to densely shaded location with averagely moist, well-drained soil. It won't survive in full sun.
Purple Moor Grass 'Variegata'
Purple moor grass (Molinia caerulea subsp. Caerulea) "Variegata" is a clumping cultivar hardy to minus 30 degrees F. Native to moors across Europe and Asia, it stands from 12 to 30 inches high and wide. This grass has 15-to-18-inch, narrow, yellow-striped green leaves. Older plants have multiple, upright or arching, slightly translucent stems. From July to September, they bear flowers with a faint purple cast that fades to golden tan as they age. Leaves also become yellow in fall, according to the Missouri Botanical Garden.
Use this largely pest-and-disease-free grass as an accent or specimen plant, or along a border front, where its translucent quality will be noticeable. It likes full sun and consistently moist, well-drained acidic (pH below 6.8) soil. Plants may flower less in hot summer climates. Purple moor grass deteriorates in fall.
Switch Grass 'Prairie Fire'
Switch grass (Panicum) "Prairie Fire" is a long-blooming cultivar reaching 4 to 5 feet high and up to 2 feet wide. Withstanding temperatures to minus 20 degrees F, it forms upright, narrow clumps of greenish-blue foliage that changes to wine-red as it matures. "Prairie Fire's" rose-colored, late summer flower clusters become beige in autumn. The plant's seed plumes persist into winter, attracting birds to the garden. This grass, advises the Missouri Botanical Garden, is vulnerable to rust--where summers are hot and humid--root rot, and some insects. Use it in perennial borders or native plant, water or prairie gardens. It does best in full sun and moist, sandy or clay soil. Foliage may fall over in partial shade.