Ornamental grasses are dramatic plantings, providing depth, texture and color to your landscape.

And they're pretty easy to grow, have few pest and disease problems, and are an excellent choice for sustainable landscapes in Louisiana.

A grouping of medium to large plants can cover expansive areas, making an effective privacy screen. 

Right now, ornamental grasses are in their prime, putting on a show with displays of strikingly gorgeous plumes.

Emerging in late summer and flowering into late fall, these plumes have become trendy for interior decorating. Large bunches of pampas grass plumes sell for more than $60 on the internet. So why not grow your own?

Ornamental grasses grow and produce blades (foliage) from spring through early summer, produce plumes through fall and go dormant, like our turfgrasses, in winter.

Plant ornamental grasses in well-drained soils in full sun for best growth and quality. These grasses can tolerate some shade, but produce more flowers with full sun exposure. Established plantings are very drought tolerant, and they attract wildlife.

Ornamental grasses grow by either spreading or clumping, with the clumping variety being less aggressive.

Grasses vary in size and height, depending on the type. Some, such as pampas, can reach up to 15 feet or taller, while others, like native muhly grasses, stay more compact.

Fertilization is seldom if ever needed, although a light application can be applied in the spring when new growth occurs and if soil tests indicate a deficiency. Cut back ornamental grasses just prior to new spring growth to remove dead blades.

Pampas grass, used in decorating, is easy to establish and very hardy. Leaf blades typically grow 6- to 8 feet tall and are extremely sharp; they can cut you. The flower plumes grow as tall as 3 feet, and are silvery white and very showy. Both male and female plants make plumes, but the females are more impressive.

These plumes make a great cut flower that can be dried and kept for quite some time if properly prepared. Pampas grass leaf blades are sharp, so always wear long sleeves, long pants and work gloves to prevent cuts.

Harvest stems at midday after the dew has dried. Cut stalks of grass to the desired length, about 3 feet of stem along with the plume. Remove all of the leaf blades. Gather the plumes in bunches and hang them up to dry for about three weeks. Once dried, to help preserve the plumes and prevent the feather-light seeds from dispersing, spray them with a light coating of hairspray or floral protectant.

Before planting pampas grass, consider the size of the area. This plant needs plenty of room to grow. Native to South America, it grows up to 15 feet tall and 10 feet wide. It can be aggressive. Also remember that the sharp blades of grass can be a mess to clean up in winter.

Some ornamental grasses, such as lovegrass, are good for erosion control and are low-maintenance options for embankments and hilly areas. Lovegrass is a low-growing, clumping grass that produces white and red plumes from summer through fall.

Other ornamental grasses recommendations from retired LSU AgCenter Extension specialist Allen Owings include reedgrass (calamagrostis), weeping lovegrass (eragrostis), maiden grass (miscanthus), switchgrass (pancium), fountaingrass (pennisetum) and muhly grass (muhlenbergia).

Maiden grass, fountaingrass, muhly grass and switchgrass are the most popular in Louisiana. Some of the maiden grasses are zebra grass, silver arrow grass and slender maiden grass.

Lemongrass (cymbopogon citrates) has a wonderful lemon scent. It’s often found in herb gardens and is commonly used in Asian cuisine. 

Purple fountaingrass, such as the Louisiana Super Plant selection Fireworks, is a red-foliaged variety. It can be an annual in north Louisiana or a perennial in south Louisiana.

Email questions to gardennews@agcenter.lsu.edu.