Ornamental grasses are any plants resembling grass that are attractive and suitable for landscaping. Tall grasses are usually 4 feet or taller and include bamboos, rushes and sedges. Tall ornamental grasses are used to create screens to hide unpleasant views, cut out noise from frequently traveled areas and provide areas of privacy. Most ornamental grasses establish themselves within 4 years. They need little maintenance besides an annual trimming to keep them growing vigorously each year.
Big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) grows 4 to 7 feet tall in full sunlight. This clumping, upright grass has green to blue-green leaves that turn orange to copper-red during the autumn. The stems tend to start to arch as they grow taller. In August, flower spikes appear red, and the color darkens as they age. Big bluestem adapts to nearly any soil type, but grows best in fertile, well-draining soil. This ornamental grass is drought tolerant. Big bluestem will flop over when grown in the shade.
Giant reed (Arundo donax) thrives in full sun, but will tolerate light shade. The upright stems reach heights of 14 to 20 feet tall, and the gray-green leaves are 3 inches across. The leaves turn bronze colored in freezing temperatures. The reddish-brown flower plumes grow 1 to 2 feet above the foliage. As they dry, they puff out and turn silver in color. This is a drought tolerant ornamental grass that is one of the tallest in the world. The large plumes are commonly used in dried floral arrangements.
Feather Reed Grass
Feather reed grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora) produces upright clumps, 5 to 7 feet in height. This grass prefers full sun, but tolerates light amounts of shade. In summer, stiff pink flower plumes appear that turn beige later in the season. These flowers resemble wheat plumes and provide golden fall color. This grass will grow in clay and provides good cut flowers.
Northern Sea Oats
Northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) grow 3 to 5 feet in dry shade. It produces upright clumps of leaves and arching stems. The flowers resemble oats hanging from the stems in summer. The light green spikes turn a reddish-bronze as the weather turns frosty. This ornamental grass tolerates poor soil, high temperatures and arid conditions. It will self-seed itself if the flower plumes are left on the plant.
Pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana) produces 6 to 10 foot tall clumps of arching, narrow green leaves. Large silver-white plumes, tinted with pink, dominate the tops of the stems throughout winter. Pampas grass prefers full sun conditions with light shade and adapts to most soil types. It is one of the best choices to plant in coastal climates. Once established, this ornamental grass will last through harsh drought conditions.