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Drought-Tolerant Ornamental Grasses

Selections for Year-Round Visual Interest

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Blue fescue: drought-tolerant grass

Blue fescue is a small, drought-tolerant ornamental grass.

Courtesy Missouri Botanical Garden

Maidengrass (Miscanthus sinensis 'Gracillimus') is a fine choice in zones 5-9 for a tall drought-tolerant ornamental grass, as it reaches as much as 7’ in height, with a spread a bit less than that. Place it towards the rear of the middle row, and center it, for this will be our focal point. Maidengrass bears coppery tassels as a seed-head in early fall, eventually growing lighter in color and adorning the plant as a "plume." Don’t cut the clump’s stems back until after the bleakness of winter passes, since the graceful stems and puffy plumes of this plant will provide some visual interest on an otherwise barren December-February landscape.

Drought-tolerant ornamental grasses similar to maidengrass are:

  • Zebra grass (Miscanthus sinensis 'Zebrinus')
  • Porcupine grass (Miscanthus sinensis 'Strictus')

Blue fescue (Festuca glauca ‘Elijah Blue’) will provide your drought-tolerant landscape plan with a shorter ornamental grass (usually a bit under 1’ x 1’). Grown in zones 4-8. The popularity of this clumping grass lies in the blue color of its foliage, which will beautifully complement the silvery foliage of our lamb’s ears. Meanwhile, its spiky appearance will stand out in contrast to the smoothness of the lamb’s ears. The plant rather resembles a pincushion bristling with blue pins. As with maidengrass, cut back foliage in early spring. Divide every few years to rejuvenate.

What about medium-sized plants? Purple fountain grass is as pretty as its name would indicate, and it's drought-tolerant to boot. Although it is not in the landscape plan provided here, mention should also be made of another drought-tolerant ornamental grass of intermediate height to complement the perennial flowers discussed on Page 2. Northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) is an ornamental grass that grows 24"-36" high in loose clumps of green foliage. Its name derives from its seed pods, which look like oats. This deer-resistant plant is cold hardy to zone 5. Should you wish to mass together several clumps of an ornamental grass variety in the middle row, northern sea oats would be an excellent choice.

Although it is technically in the lily family, liriope is usually treated as if it were an ornamental grass. Take one look at its blade-shaped leaves and you'll understand why. This is another plant that holds up pretty well to dry conditions. As such, I include it here with the drought-tolerant ornamental grasses.

To view the arrangement of some of the plants mentioned in this article in a drawing, an accompanying drought-tolerant landscape plan has been provided.

Return to Drought-Resistant Plants index.

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