Ornamental Grasses Ohio Valley Gardeners Should Grow

Many golden tufts of ornamental grass growing outdoors in the sunshine
(Image credit: YuraWhite)

Ornamental grasses add color, texture and vertical appeal to the landscape. Most require minimal care, and these landscaping plants come in a variety of sizes to meet any gardener's needs. Yet, if you live in the Midwest or the Ohio Valley, varieties of ornamental grasses for Missouri gardens may not perform as expected in Northern states.

Cool-Season vs. Warm-Season Ornamental Grass

As the name suggests, cool-season grass varieties do better when the temperature is between 60 to 75 degrees F. (15.5-24 C.). They begin growing early in the spring and enter a second growth period in the fall. Unless they are provided with supplemental water during the summer, these types of ornamental grasses typically go dormant midseason and turn brown.

Warm-season grasses like it hot and thrive in temperatures in the 80 to 95 degree F. (27-35 C.) range. These ornamental grasses begin growing later in the year and don't turn brown until fall. Which type of ornamental grass is right for you depends upon where you live.

Ornamental Grasses - Illinois, Indiana and Northern Midwest States

Although a few warm-season grasses are winter hardy in climates colder than zone 5, most are not. Ornamental grasses for Indiana and Illinois can include warm-season species in the lower portions of these states. For colder regions of the Midwest and Ohio Valley, consider these cool-season ornamental grasses that thrive in Zone 4.

Blue Fescue (Festuca ovina)

  • Foliage: Silvery-blue
  • Plume color: Light tan
  • Height: 6-10 inches (15-25 cm.)

Blue Hair Grass (Koeleria glauca)

  • Foliage: Blue green
  • Plume color: Golden brown
  • Height: 12 inches (30 cm.)

Blue Oat Grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens)

  • Foliage: Steel blue
  • Plume color: Light brown
  • Height: 2 feet (.6 m.)

Bulbous Oat Grass (Arrhenatherum elatius)

  • Foliage: Bluish-green with white stripes
  • Plume color: Tan
  • Height: 12 inches (30 cm.)

Feather Reed Grass (Calamagrostis acutiflora)

  • Foliage: Dull green
  • Plume color: Rosy pink to maroon
  • Height: 3 feet (.9 m.)

Hakone Grass (Hakonechloa macra)

  • Foliage: Creamy white, bright yellow and green striped
  • Plume color: Inconspicuous
  • Height: 1-2 feet (.3-.6 m.)

Ribbon Grass (Phalaris arundinacea)

  • Foliage: Bright green with white stripes
  • Plume color: Greenish white to pale pink
  • Height: 2 to 3 feet (.6-.9 m.)

Tufted Hair Grass (Dechampsia caespitosa)

  • Foliage: Dark green
  • Plume color: Silvery white to golden
  • Height: 2 to 3 feet (.6-.9 m.)

Ornamental Grass – Kentucky and Zone 5 Midwest States

While cool-season grasses thrive in the upper third of the US, warm-season grasses are best for Southern states. Gardeners in the middle third of the country can choose either. In addition to the cool-season species listed above, zone 5 Lower Midwest and Ohio ornamental grasses can include these warm-season species:

Chinese Silver (Maiden) Grass (Miscanthus sinensus)

  • Foliage: Light green with ivory variegation
  • Plume color: Silvery pink
  • Height: 4 to 5 feet (1.2-1.5 m.)

Fountain Grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides)

  • Foliage: Bright green
  • Plume color: Buff to rosy white
  • Height: 3 feet (.9 m.)

Giant Reed Grass (Arundo donax)

  • Foliage: Bluish-green, green, or silver
  • Plume color: Golden brown
  • Height: 20 feet (6 m.)

Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans)

  • Foliage: Pale green, dark green, or blue-green
  • Plume color: Golden brown
  • Height: 3 to 7 feet (.9-2.1 m.)

Japanese Blood Grass (Imperata cylindrica)

  • Foliage: Green and red
  • Plume color: Non-flowering
  • Height: 2 to 20 feet (.6-6 m.)

Northern Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium)

  • Foliage: Green
  • Plume color: Golden brown
  • Height: 3 feet (.9 m.)

Plume Grass (Erianthus ravennae)

  • Foliage: Greyish-green with white midribs
  • Plume color: Silvery white
  • Height: 14 feet (4.3 m.)

Purple Moor Grass (Molinia caerulea)

  • Foliage: Dark green
  • Plume color: Golden to maroon
  • Height: 2 to 3 feet (.3-.6 m.)

Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum)

  • Foliage: Green
  • Plume color: Pinkish purple
  • Height: 4 to 6 feet (1.2-1.8 m.)
Laura Miller

Laura Miller has been gardening all her life. Holding a degree in Biology, Nutrition, and Agriculture, Laura's area of expertise is vegetables, herbs, and all things edible. She lives in Ohio.