Ornamental grasses offer several benefits for Arizona gardeners. In addition to adding year-round interest and movement to gardens, they provide food and shelter for birds and other wildlife. They often require little maintenance once they become established. Using ornamental grasses in mass plantings can fill in barren landscapes and help prevent soil erosion when planted along steep slopes. Many ornamental grasses tolerate drought and will grow well in hot, dry Arizona gardens.
Muhlenbergia rigens, commonly known as deer grass, grows wild along streams and creeks in Arizona. This native bunch grass features light green, narrow leaves that arch out from the center of the plant. In late summer, tall spikes of flowers appear. Plant deer grass in full sun and water regularly during the first month. Once established, deer grass tolerates drought and thrives on only 15 inches of water per year.
Gulf Coast Muhly
Muhlenbergia capillaris, commonly known as gulf coast or pink muhly, features dark green, glossy leaves that turn an attractive pinkish red in the fall. Gulf coast muhly performs well in full sun or light shade. Water regularly during the summer months to encourage full, dense grass.
Mexican Feather Grass
Nassella tenuissima, or Mexican feather grass, is a fast-growing, clump-forming grass native to New Mexico, Texas and Mexico, but grows well in Arizona. Feather grass grows up to 2 feet tall. The bluish green, downy foliage turns gold during winter months. Plant Mexican feather grass in full sun or partial shade and provide well-drained soil.
Little bluestem, or Schizachyrium scoparium, grows wild in prairies across the United States. It is often cultivated due to its drought tolerance and winter interest. Fine, bluish green stems turn reddish brown in the fall and persist through winter. Little bluestem grows between 2 and 4 feet tall. Plant this grass in full sun or partial shade and well-drained soil.
Common Blue Fescue
Festuca glauca, or common blue fescue, features thin, light blue leaves, reaching up to 12 inches tall. A flowering spike appears in the summer. Plant blue fescue in full sun or partial shade in nutrient-rich, well-drained soil. For the first month after planting, water once every three days, then once a week throughout the summer. After the first growing season, blue fescue rarely requires supplemental watering.
Tufted Hair Grass
Deschampsia caespitosa, or tufted hair grass, grows 1 to 2 feet tall and up to 4 feet wide. In the summer, the wide blades support a flock of feathery flower heads. The foliage turns bright orange or gold and the flowers turn tan in the fall. Choose a sunny spot for tufted hair grass and provide rich, well-drained soil. Water regularly, especially during dry periods.