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Shade Tolerant Ornamental Grasses

By April Sanders ; Updated September 21, 2017

Ornamental grasses are grown for their foliage, which can range widely in textures and colors. Some have large, feathery strands of grass, while others have slender, sharp blades. Some are found in shades of green, while others have silvery or burgundy colors. Ornamental grasses are either clumping, which form neat mounds, or running, which fill borders and can sometimes become invasive. While most types of ornamental grasses thrive in full sunlight, there are some that will tolerate shade.

Blue Fescue

This compact, prolific bloomer features small but brilliantly true blue flowers. Blue fescue (Festuca cinerea, F. glaucais) is popular for both its color and that it thrives in sandy soils that are on the dry side, which is unique in shade-tolerant ornamental grasses. Blue fescue is also extremely hardy and can even thrive in altitudes up to 10,000 feet above sea level.

June Grass

June grass (Koeleria macrantha) forms small mounds that are only 1 foot tall when they reach maximum height. This grass blooms with white flowers in the spring and is a favorite with butterflies. June grass is extremely hardy. It will tolerate a wide range of soils, grows well in the shade and can even grow at altitudes of up to 11,000 feet.

Variegated Bulbous Oat Grass

Variegated bulbous oat grass is popular for its variegated foliage, which features stripes of white. The plant produces flowers in the spring that resemble oats. Variegated bulbous oat grass is a short, compact ornamental grass that will reach a maximum height of less than 1 foot. The grass prefers partial shade and moist, well-draining soil.

Palm Sedge

Not only does palm sedge (Carex muskingumensis) tolerate shade, but it requires shade as the delicate, lacy leaves will scorch and turn yellow in the hot sun. This slow-growing, running ornamental grass is grown for its foliage and requires constantly moist soil. The plant can reach a height of 2 feet.

Northern Sea Oats

Northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) is a cool-season grass that thrives in temperate climates and shady, moist soil. This compact plant grows to a height of 2 feet and has showy, graceful flowers that droop over. The copper-colored flowers stand out well against the straight, light-green foliage, making this an unusual ornamental grass.