Ornamental grasses can be a lovely addition to your garden, adding motion and texture to entice the eye. Novice gardeners may, however, shy away from using ornamental grasses due to the notion that it needs full sun to grow.
As a rule, grass does like sun, but don’t fret, some ornamental grasses will work perfectly fine in the shade.
What ornamental grasses do well in shade? These 13 ornamental grasses are ideal for shaded areas:
- Greater Wood Rush
- Hameln fountain grass
- Hakone Grass
- Mondo grass
- Flame grass
- Northern sea oats
- Sweet Flag
- Feather Reed Grass
- Muhly grass
- Tufted hair grass
- Autumn moor grass
It’s actually relatively easy to bring some life to any dull shaded area in your garden. The gentle rustling and swaying of ornamental grass in the wind is no longer just for sun-flooded spaces.
Some suitable species include Northern Sea Oats and Creeping Lilyturf but read on below to find more ornamental grass that will grow in full or partial shade.
13 Best Ornamental Grasses for Shade Gardens
No need for you to tag the shaded areas of your garden as ‘boring’ anymore. Select some shade-loving grasses of different lengths, thickness and color, and even shaded areas will quickly turn into something to brag about. Below are over 13 top ornamental grasses that grow in shade.
1. Greater Wood Rush (Luzulasylvatica)
Greater Wood Rush is an evergreen perennial with grass-like features that works well as a groundcover in shady areas. It has fine ribbon-like foliage roughly clumped into tussocks. A cluster of tiny, brown flowers appears in late spring.
- Part shade to full shade - won’t tolerate full sun
- Low maintenance
- Requires constantly moist, humus-rich soil
- Grows 1-2 feet high and just as wide
- Other spies of Luzulasylvatica to consider are Aurea, Marginata and Solar Flair.
Luzulasylvatica 'Aurea' is a cultivar that thrives in partial to full shade. Despite growing without full sun, it has greenish-yellow leaves and glossy foliage. It can grow up to 3 feet and is a zealous evergreen.
The cultivar Luzulasylvatica 'Marginata' can be differentiated by the arching leaves with white edges.
Like its mother variety, it grows dense but to a height of 1.5 feet. The flowers have a lighter color of cream and appear every summer.
Luzulasylvatica 'Solar Flair' is gold in the colder season and light green when the weather becomes warmer.
The name suits its appearance during cold months when it looks like the sun flairs on the ground. It is a low growing plant reaching about 1 foot.
2. Dwarf Fountain Grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Hameln')
Hameln is the dwarf version of Fountain Grass; a warm season ornamental grass. It has deep green leaves that will turn yellow in fall and fade to beige.
Part of the Pennisetum genus, Dwarf Fountain Grass is a cultivar of the sun-loving Pennisetum alopecuroides species. This plant can tolerate part shade though it does best in full sun. It has white-silver bristles of flowers.
This ornamental grass was awarded the Growers Choice Award in 2000 by the Michigan Nursery and Landscape Association.
- Partial shade to full sun
- Blooms pinkish-white
- The soil must be well-draining, yet kept moist
- Grows to a height of 2 feet and equally wide
Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’ is a variety that can tolerate light shade. This is also known as Purple Fountain Grass so expect purple linear arches with burgundy flower heads.
It is a showstopper in burgundy and hot pink or variegated stripes of white and green.
3. Hakone Grass (Hakonechloa macra)
Hakonechloa Macra is a shade loving ornamental grass is usually grown for its eye-catching foliage. It is long-lived and a perfect ornamental grass for shady areas. It can grow up to two feet tall and wide, making it a great focal plant.
From Japan, Hakone grass is the only species in this genus of the grass family. The shade-loving ornamental grass is characterized by its slender and arching leaves forming a loose mound. It has a slow growth rate.
- Part shade
- Easy to grow and resilient to pests
- Moist, humus-rich, well-draining soil
- Grows to a height of 3 feet and to a width of 2 feet
Other Hakonechloa macra varieties that will work well in shaded areas are Aureola, All Gold, Albostriata, Beni-kaze and Fubuki.
The cultivar Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola' looks like a cascading golden waterfall as each strip of leaf flows in one direction. It can grow 1-2 feet in height and turns into shades of pink/red during autumn.
Morning sunshine gives the yellow-gold color of the cultivar Hakonechlo amacra 'All Gold' but growth in shade nevertheless gives beautiful arched leaves with discrete tiny green flowers.
Among the cultivars, it has upright and spiky foliage. It is a dwarf variation, growing 6-8 inches in height.
Hakonechloa macra 'Albostriata' has a slightly faster growth rate than most cultivars. Unlike the Aureola, the leaves have the opposite color- green with yellow/cream stripe.
Another cold hardy ornamental grass for shade is Hakonechloa macra 'Beni-kaze'.
Also called the Red Wind, this plant is short and green all summer but turns red-purple as it matures going into colder months. It is gorgeous used along borders as it grows up to 15 inches.
Hakonechloa macra 'Fubuki' has white-striped green, sharp leaves. It can reach 14-18 inches tall and spread equally wide.
4. Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon japonicus)
At first glance, it looks like common grass, but Ophiopogon Japonicus is spectacular shade-loving grass grows flowers that turn into fruit.
The thin, green spikes of the perennial grass are very easy to grow and are resistant to deer. It becomes dense, making it impossible for weeds to survive.
The evergreen grass is native to Japan, Korea, and China where it is traditionally used as ground cover. They are salt and drought tolerant.
Mondo Grass is ideal if you’re looking to add texture in shady areas. It grows between 12 inches and 1 foot and the same width.
- Part shade to full sun; adaptable to various conditions
- Care-free and easy to grow
- Has small lilac flowers
- Likes medium moisture and well-draining soil
Gyoku-ryu and Nana are two other ornamental grasses of the Ophiopogon Japonicus family you can plant in the shade.
A dwarf cultivar of Mondo is Ophiopogon jap
Lavender flowers appear on short stalks during summer, but they tend to be hidden under the broad leaves.
Ophiopogon japonicus 'Nana' is another dwarf Mondo reaching 3-6 inches. The variegated cultivar forms very densely and its green, strap-like leaves bows to the ground. It is a good decoration between stepping-stone.
5. Lilyturf (Liriope spp.)
Under the genus of Liriope, Lilyturf is a grass-like ornament native to East and southern Asia. Despite being called Lilyturf, it should be noted that the grass is neither Lily nor a grass.
It has deep green foliage and showy flowers form in a gorgeous mound. Liriope is tough and can tolerate drought, salt sprays and heat threats.
Also known as Monkey Grass, this perennial is often used as a groundcover. It has white or purple flowers that bloom in the Fall. It grows between 9 to 15 inches high and can tolerate heat, humidity and even drought.
- Partial shade to full sun
- Root rot can be a problem so don’t overwater
- Grow in well-drained soil
- 9 inches in height and 1 to 2 feet wide
Have a look at Liriope Spicata or Liriopoe Muscari if you want to see other varieties that my work in your garden.
Liriope Spicata has green arching leaves; usually glossy and evergreen to the south of the US. It has many cultivars, mostly growing up to 9-15 inches high
Liriope Muscari resemblance grape hyacinths. The deep, green leaves are about an inch wide while the whole plant reaches 1-1.5 feet tall.
6. Flame Grass (Miscanthus purpurascens)
With its eye-catching orange-red foliage, Flame Grass will add some much-needed warmth to any shaded area. It starts bright green then enters the late summer/fall season when the foliage transforms to tan.
From August to November, the white and silky blooms appear. It is compact and upright, growing up to 5 feet high, with a spread of 2-3 feet.
Colors won’t be as bright as when planted in full sun, and flowering will decrease, but you can use the cultivar Miscanthus sinensis (Chinese Silver Grass) that grows well in the shade while being wildly alluring with its soft feather panicles.
- Part shade to full sun
- Mealybugs may be an issue for Flame Grass
- Tolerates soil ranging from sandy to heavy clay
Morning Light, Flamingo and Oktoberfest are other ornamental Miscanthus grasses that will grow in the shade.
Miscanthus sinensis 'Morning Light' has very narrow, green blades but looks silvery from far because of the white spectrum in its margin. It can grow 4-6 feet tall and sport copper flowers in mid to late September.
Miscanthus sinensis 'Flamingo' is another cultivar and has been described as one of the most beautiful varieties because of the pink stalks and silvery seed heads.
Miscanthus sinensis 'Oktoberfest' can do with less than six hours of sun exposure. It has wide, green leaves with a white midrib.
The foliage turns into deep purple or red late summer or fall with burgundy, showy panicles. These flowers will transform into fluffy, cream heads when it matures.
7. Sedge (Carex spp.)
One look and you will think Sedge is just another regular ornamental grass. But they are actually grass-like perennials under the genus of Carex.
But since they look like grass and work well in shady areas, they will look great in between other grasses planted in shaded gardens.
A typical Sedge has triangular leaves and comes in a wide range of colors; shades of green, bluish-green, yellow, and copper. Carex species are tough plants that grow very well in their natural habitat.
They prefer damp environment but are generally drought-tolerant, deer resistant and effective in binding thin soils as erosion-control plants.
There are over 2000 species of Sedge so you won’t have to look for long to find one that will suit the growing conditions you can offer.
- Full shade, part shade, full sun – be sure to select one that will work well as an ornamental grass in a shady garden
- Requires moist but well-draining soil
- Grows 1-3 feet tall and 6 or more inches wide
- Flowers are brown
Carex comans Bronze-Leaved (New Zealand Hair Sedge) is a variety with reddish-brown leaves. The brown flowers spike during late summer, growing to a foot in perfect conditions.
One of the most beautiful ornamental grasses, Carex 'Ice Dance' (Japanese Sedge) is featured with narrow, green leaves outlined with white borders.
The leaves have a slight bend. It can grow 9-12 inches tall with a spread of 12-18 inches.
Carex grayi (Mace Sedge) is a cultivar that attracts birds with its small flowers in the form of stars.
The foliage is green, but the intensity of the color deepens with less sun exposure. It grows 2-3 feet tall and is perfect for patios, ponds or the pool area where wet soil is the natural state.
8. Northern Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium)
This perennial ornamental grass grows equally well in shade or full sun. The leaves are like those of bamboo with dangling spikelets.
The flower seed heads are shaped like wheat or oat seeds and go from green to tan. The grass grows upright in clumps and is deciduous spreaders.
- Partial shade to full sun
- Flowers range from green to bronze
- Soil should be moist but well-drained
- Height can reach up to 5 feet, with a width of 1 to 2 feet
An attractive variegated Chasmanthium latifolium is River Mist or River Mist Northern Sea Oat Grass.
While growing, the nodding leaves are green and white but turns coppery bronze in the fall. The 'oats' initially looks silvery green in summer but will lose its color as it gets colder.
9. Sweet Flag (Acorus spp.)
Acorus genus, commonly called Sweet Flag is an ornamental grass for the shade that is native to Japan and China. Its common name comes from the fact that it smells sweet if crushed.
The leaves of a sweet Flag are light green, long and pointed. It produces ornamentally insignificant flowers that turn to red berries after blooming in the spring. Acorus is fond of wet conditions and may be planted near ponds.
- Partial shade to full sun
- Likes wet soil
- Grows anything from 3 inches to 3 feet high and 6 inches to 2 feet wide
- Flowers are greenish-yellow
Acorus calamus 'Variegatus' (Variegated Sweet Flag) is one cultivar also suitable to shady areas. It has sword-like leaves that are vertically striped with green and cream.
This turns to pink hue in colder months. The specific variety grows 2-2.5 feet in height and with 1.5-2 feet spread.
Another species is the Acorus gramineus which is native to Asia. Its cultivar Acorus gramineus 'Ogon' (Golden Variegated Sweet Flag) is one versatile grass.
Some use this grass as an aquarium plant, as well as along a border, as a groundcover or as patio decor.
It has narrow leaves with a creamy-yellow color striped with green. Each leaf is arched and fragrant whenever marred.
10. Feather Reed Grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora)
The cool-season perennial is a favorite ornamental grass of most gardeners. The plant grows upright in a well-behaved manner forming clumps. The leaves are green topped with feathery shoots blooming in spring.
Feather Reed Grass stands sturdy even after blooming. Its flower spikes grow a foot long and stand out on its already tall stature. The grass can tolerate poor draining soil making it a good ornament in water gardens.
- Partial shade to full sun
- Likes moil soil, can tolerate being waterlogged
- Grows up to 6 feet high and 3 feet wide
- Has buff-colored feathery spikes
Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster' is the most popular cultivar of the Feather Reed Grass species. It was recognized by the Royal Horticultural Society as the Perennial Plant of the Year for 2001.
It stands 3-6 feet tall with a green, narrow stalk with tan feathery plumes. Another cultivar, Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Overdam' has variegated foliage of white and tufted spikes.
During summer, the plumes are pinkish but turn to grey as it matures. It has a fast growth rate reaching 4-5 feet.
Another type with variegated yellow leaves is Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Avalanche'. The creamy leaves are striped and topped with feathery plumes maturing to a golden tan color.
It is a cool-season grass but can thrive equally well in the summer heat.
11. Muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris)
A sea of pink cotton clouds is the best way to describe this ornamental grass. Muhly grass is genuinely surreal to watch; each panicle dances beautifully in the breeze.
Muhly grass is a warm-season ornamental grass for the shade that does very well in full sun but can tolerate shade. It has a very feminine look but is a robust plant tolerant of drought and salt sprays.
- Partial shade to full sun
- Prefers moist and well-draining soil
- Grows up to 3 feet tall and equally wide
- Flowers are airy and pink
Muhlenbergia capillaris has few cultivars, but all of them tolerate partial shade while still showing off the same vibrancy.
Regal Mist Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris 'Lenca') is one. It has darker pink plumes growing to 3 feet.
Pink Flamingos Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris 'Pink Flamingos') is a hybrid of Muhlenbergia capillaris and Muhlenbergia lindheimeri and has the same appearance as the grass specimen but in a rounder form.
Aside from the usual pink color of Muhly Grass, its cultivar Muhlenbergia capillaris 'White Cloud' has airy inflorescences in ivory color.
The foliage is blue-green and reaches 4 feet with blooms, 3 feet without. The White Cloud has a more upright form.
12. Tufted Hair Grass (Deschampsia cespitosa)
One impressive ornamental grass for shade is Tufted Hair Frass. It has very thin, arched grass leaves with airy panicles of green tawny hair-like flowers.
It grows dense in clumps and may self-seed in some conditions resulting in aggressiveness.
- Partial shade to full sun
- Loves moist and even wet soil
- Can reach a height of 4 feet and width of 2 feet
- Flowers are hairy and white
A cultivar called Deschampsia cespitosa 'Schottland' grows to mound reaching 4 feet. The foliage grows densely with delicate yellow flowers.
It is excellent for mass plantings and can be a beautiful technique to combat weeds.
The ornament Deschampsia cespitosa 'Tautraeger' is another Tufted Hair Grass with thin leaves. The inflorescences, however, are silvery-blue airy plumes. It can grow up to 3 feet.
The cultivar Deschampsia cespitosa 'Goldschleier' has deep green foliage and golden spikes of air-light panicles.
Deschampsia caespitosa 'Goldtau' has bronze-gold flowers that appear every summer against chartreuse foliage. The delicate-looking plant grows up to 2 feet tall.
13. Autum Moore (Sesleria autumnalis)
Native to southern Europe, Autumn Moor Grass is one of the species of the Seleria genus.
This cool-season ornamental grass has yellow-green foliage topped with wiry, silvery-white inflorescences most showy during autumn.
The grass can tolerate dappled sunlight, so it is a good ornament under trees, or under other plants as groundcovers. It is a very low-maintenance plant and has great tolerance for drought and soil types.
- Partial shade to full sun
- Dry to medium soil
- Reached 1 feet in height and similar in width
- Has thin white flowers in spring
Sesleria caerulea or Blue Moor Grass is a type of Seleria species that has two colors of leaves. The upper side of the leaf is green while the underside has a blue tinge, giving the grass a blue shadow at first glance.
It grows to 8 inches, very dense and is suitable for most gardens as a groundcover. Sesleria albicans or Balkans Moor Grass is another variety growing 8-12 inches tall.
It is a mound-forming clump with evergreen leaves in a sea green shade.
Gray Moor Grass is another ornamental grass for shade with glossy gray-blue and semi-evergreen leaves.
It forms a gorgeous mound reaching 1-2 feet, and the tubular cones of white flowers make it a good plant for borders.
Sesleria heufleriana or Blue-Green Moor Grass is a Seleria perennial that can grow up to 2 feet high. It has grey-blue foliage sporting dark purple flowers blooming every spring. It is exceptionally heat and drought tolerant
How to choose Shade Loving Ornamental Grass
With so many types of shade-loving ornamental grasses to choose from, there are a few questions you will need to consider before making your selection.
Do you want to make it a section dedicated to ornamental grass only or are you planning on mixing various types of plants with the grass? It does not really matter what you decide, as long as you use the height and width of the ornamental grass to your advantage.
Use tall ornamental grass to create a sense of privacy or as a statement. On the other hand, small ornamental grasses are perfect for making borders, using along pathways, or as groundcovers.
Knowing precisely what you want from the ornamental grass can narrow down your choices.
When selecting an ornamental grass for a shady part of your garden, look at the conditions of the area – is it dry, boggy, sandy, rocky? Is it only shady during a section of the day or full shade throughout? All this information will help you eliminate ornamental grasses that won’t be able to grow in your garden.
Also, keep the size and growth habit of the grass in mind – you do not want to plant a grass that will take over your whole garden in a matter of weeks.
Final thoughts on ornamental grasses for shade
We all have those spots that are left barren because of the lack of sunlight it receives. Ornamental grasses that can grow in the shade are the perfect solution to bring life to these areas.
Not only do grasses add texture, it can also increase color, add height, give privacy…the list is endless.
Ornamental grasses that can grow in the shade come in various shapes and sizes – with or without flowers – with a little bit of planning, you can’t go wrong.
Lindsey Hyland grew up in Arizona where she attended University of Arizona’s Controlled Environment Agriculture. She has supplemented her formal education by working on various organic farms, including spending a semester abroad in India.
Growing and/or raising just about anything gets her excited. She is especially passionate about environmental justice and low-tech, sustainable ways to better run small-scale farms and homesteads. Lindsey started Urban Organic Yield to discuss gardening tips and tactics.
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