Ornamental grasses can add color and interest to any garden, and there are many options even for shady areas. Ornamental grasses are grasses that are allowed to grow to their full potential, rather than being mowed regularly like lawn grass. These grasses may be used in landscapes as annuals or perennials would be used, and some offer showy blooms. There is a wide variety of ornamental grasses that thrive in shade, including small, clumping mondo grasses or taller, more graceful sea oats.
Black Mondo Grass
Black mondo grass (Ophiopogon nigrescens) is hardy in USDA zones 6-10 and thrives in shade. This small, shrub-like grass mounds and grows to about 6 inches, but provides year round color with narrow, tapering black foliage. Black mondo grass also has pink blooms in summer and shiny, black berries in winter. This perennial spreads by underground roots, needs rich soil and works well as a garden border or mixed with green shrubs.
Junegrass (Koeleria macrantha) is hardy in nearly every region with exception of 12 states, including Florida, Virginia, New Jersey and New Hampshire. This plant will flourish in shade. This clumping grass grows to about 1 foot and has showy white flowers in the summer, usually in June, thus the name. This plant will attract butterflies and is a host for larvae. Also known as prairie grass, junegrass is a perennial that thrives in sandy soil and cool weather. Junegrass is considered an endangered species in Kentucky and Ohio, according to the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Northern Sea Oats
Northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) are hardy in zones 5-9 and enjoy partial shade. This plant grows to about 2 feet and its light-green foliage resembles bamboo. Northern sea oats also flower well in shade, producing showy, droopy, green blooms that age to bronze. Northern sea oats thrive with average watering and will droop with too much watering. This plant reseeds and may be invasive. You may avoid reseeding by deadheading the plant and collecting seeds.