6 Stunning Decorative Grasses That Pollinators Love

Ornamental grasses have become popular in gardens for many reasons, but mostly for their striking appearance and contrast with traditional flowers and perennial plants. They are also easy to maintain and often hardy.

Grasses come in a variety of sizes and colors, making them versatile additions to beds and edges.

Another great reason to grow ornamental grasses is to support pollinators in your garden. Native grasses provide vital habitat for many types of pollinators. They offer shelter and serve as sites for overwintering eggs, caterpillars, and pupae.

The best ornamental grasses for your garden are native species. These will survive the winter, require little maintenance, and be the best hosts for pollinators.

Here are some examples of beautiful ornamental grasses suitable for specific regions. Always check a plant is compatible with your USDA planting zone before purchasing.

1. Big and Little Bluestem

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Big bluestem and little bluestem grasses are native to most of the US, and hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9. Little bluestem has a wider range, but big bluestem is still native to the eastern two-thirds of the country. They serve as larval hosts for several species of butterflies throughout their range.

These are bunch grasses that grow in attractive clumps, up to two feet tall for the little grass and up to eight feet tall for big bluestem. The slender stems are blue-green in color, turning rich burgundy in fall. They produce forked flower stalks and seedheads in summer and fall.

Both grasses do well in full sun or partial shade and do not need a lot of water. They tolerate a variety of soil types but not wetlands.

2. Tufted Hairgrass

Tufted hairgrass ornamental grass

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This is a great choice for wetter areas of the garden. Native to most of the US and Canada, tufted hairgrass is suitable for zones 2 to 8. It grows in neat mounts up to five feet tall and produces pretty, delicate purple flowers in summer.

Tufted hairgrass hosts and feeds several pollinator species, but it is mostly deer-resistant. Plant it in wet areas of the garden. It will also tolerate more shade than many ornamental grasses.

3. Sideoats Grama

Sideoats grama ornamental grass

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For a more compact native species, try sideoats grama. Native to most of the US and Canada, this is also the state grass of Texas, where it plays host to at least 14 native pollinator species. It grows in clumps up to about two feet tall and is a good choice for smaller spaces.

Sideoats grama is especially attractive when in bloom in summer with purple and orange flowers.

Grow sideoats grama in full sun in nearly any soil type, as long as it stays mostly dry. It needs very little maintenance and watering. It is hardy in zones 3 to 9.

4. Mexican Feather Grass

Mexican feather grass Nassella tenuissima

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This ornamental grass is native to most of the southwest and Mexico and is hardy in zones 7 to 10. Note that it is considered invasive in southern California.

Mexican feather grass is a fine-textured wispy grass that puts on a show in even the slightest breeze. It stays green most of the year, browning only a little in the hottest part of summer. It produces feathery, light seedheads in spring.

Mexican feather grass should only be planted in dry soils. It will not tolerate a lot of water. It is easy to care for and rarely needs to be watered. It is also one of the best ornamental grasses for containers and prefers full sun to partial shade.

5. Muhly Grass

Muhly grass ornamental grass

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Muhly grass is a group of native grasses that grow in most of the eastern US but are hardier in the south. They grow in zones 5 through 11.

Muhly are among the most beautiful native grasses because of their striking, feathery flower spikes. Growing up to three feet tall, muhly grasses have thin stems that turn copper in fall and showy, cloud-like purple to pink flowers.

Grow muhly grass in full sun and in a variety of soil types. It tolerates drought well and does not need to be watered often. In addition to pollinators, muhly grasses attract ladybugs – helpful predator insects that attack pests.

6. Switchgrass

Switchgrass ornamental grass

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Switchgrass is native to most of the US and Canada. It is not native to western states but grows well in zones 5 to 9. Switchgrass varieties range from four feet to as tall as eight feet and make striking privacy screens or tall backdrops in perennial beds. It shelters numerous pollinators and provides a fall food source for native birds.

Switchgrasses provide green color in spring and summer and a range of rich fall colors. The flower spikes are less conspicuous than the tall stems and leaves.

Plant switchgrass in full sun in soil that retains some moisture. Once established, it will tolerate drought.

For most of these native species, you can now find showy cultivars. To enhance your pollinator garden, look for varieties of native grasses with varied colors, different textures of flowers and seedheads, and unique fall shades.

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