Zone 5 Native Grasses – Types Of Grass For Zone 5 Climates


By: Mary H. Dyer, Credentialed Garden Writer

Grasses add incredible beauty and texture to the landscape all year round, even in northern climates that experience sub-zero winter temperatures. Read on for more information about cold hardy grasses and a few examples of the best grasses for zone 5.

Zone 5 Native Grasses

Planting native grasses for your particular area offers many benefits because they are perfectly suited to the growing conditions. They provide shelter for wildlife, require little maintenance, survive with limited water, and rarely need pesticides or chemical fertilizer. Although it’s best to check with your local garden center for grasses native to your area, the following plants are excellent examples of hardy zone 5 grasses native to North America:

  • Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis) – Pink and brownish blooms, graceful, arching, bright-green foliage turning reddish-orange in autumn.
  • Purple Love Grass (Eragrostis spectabilis) – Reddish-purple blooms, bright green grass that turns orange and red in autumn.
  • Prairie Fire Red Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum ‘Prairie Fire’) – Rose blooms, blue-green foliage turning deep red in summer.
  • ‘Hachita’ Blue Grama Grass (Bouteloua gracili ‘Hachita’) – Reddish-purple blooms, bluish-green/gray-green foliage turns golden brown in autumn.
  • Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) – Purplish-bronze flowers, grayish-green grass that turns bright orange, bronze, red, and purple in autumn.
  • Eastern Gamagrass (Tripsacum dactyloides) – Purple and orange flowers, green grass turning reddish-bronze in autumn.

Other Types of Grass for Zone 5

Below are some additional cold hardy grasses for zone 5 landscapes:

  • Purple Moor Grass (Molina caerulea) – Purple or yellow flowers, pale green grass turning brown in autumn.
  • Tufted Hairgrass (Deschampsia cespitosa) – Purple, silver, gold, and greenish-yellow blooms, dark green foliage.
  • Korean Feather Reed Grass (Calamagrostis brachytricha) – Pinkish blooms, bright green foliage turning yellow-beige in fall.
  • Pink Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia capillaries) – also known as Pink Hair Grass, it has bright pink blooms and dark green foliage.
  • Hameln Fountain Grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’) – Also known as Dwarf Fountain Grass, this grass produces pinkish-white blooms with deep green foliage turning orange-bronze in autumn.
  • Zebra Grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Strictus’) – Reddish-brown blooms and medium-green grass with bright yellow, horizontal stripes.

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Climate Maps, Grass Type Chart & More

Helping You Choose A Type of Grass!

Grass types are classified as Warm Season grass or Cool Season grass. This is determined by the season of the grass type's active growth period.

This critical information applies to lawn, sports turf and pasture grass. It does you no good to buy and plant a warm season grass only to find that the hard freeze that is normal for your winter will kill out the grass. Same goes for cool season grasses when the summer temperatures of the South shrivel your grass to nothing. Finding the right grass or MIXTURE of grasses is an important step in planting a great lawn, pasture or sport field.

The Turfgrass Selection Climate Zone Map - This map, found below, is a color coded map for selection of the type of grass based on climate (rainfall, etc) and on temperatures.


Popular Kinds of Colorful Ornamental Grasses with Their Varieties

Perennial Tall Ornamental Grasses

These are often planted to provide some privacy in one’s garden and home.

Width: 4-8 feet

Sunlight : Full sun can survive in partial shade

USDA Zone: 5-9

Width: 2-3 feet

USDA Zone: 4-9

Width: 1-2 feet

Sunlight : Full sun to partial shade

USDA Zone: 5-8

Width: 3-5 feet

USDA Zone: 4-9

Width: Up to 3 feet

Sunlight : Full sun to partial shade

USDA Zone: 4-9

Width: 2-4 feet

USDA Zone: 8-11

Width: Up to 3 feet

USDA Zone: 3-9

Width: 2-3 feet

USDA Zone: 4-9

Width: 3-4 feet

USDA Zone: 3-7

Width: 2-4 feet

USDA Zone: 8-9

Short or Dwarf Ornamental Grass Varieties for Sun and Shade

Apart from being popular for low-growing borders and hedges, these are also quite common as easy-to-grow houseplants.

Also known as the big blue lilyturf, it is actually an evergreen grass-like flowering plant that can be planted like any ornamental grass in your garden. Tolerant to full sun and drought conditions, it produces pink to lavender, fragrant flower spikes in spring.

Width: up to 1 feet

Sunlight : Partial to full shade

USDA Zone: 5-9

As the name suggests, it grows attractive dark bluish-green grass blades that turn green unless it gets a lot of sunlight. Bluish flower spikes appear in summer, gradually turning bright yellow. Established plants have low care and watering needs. Looks good with red and yellow-flowered ground covers.

Width: Up to 2 feet

USDA Zone: 4-8

This is another lily turf species that has made its name as an ornamental grass despite not actually belonging in the grass family. The bushy evergreen foliage, the appearance of purple flower spikes in summer, followed by beautiful dark blue berries all make it valuable as a groundcover, border, or container plant. Needs little care once established.

Width: 1-2 feet

Sunlight : Full to partial sun

USDA Zone: 6-11

Also known as hairawn muhly, this is a perennial, semi-evergreen ornamental grass with fluffy pink/purple flowers and a sedge-like appearance. Best suited for well-drained soils, including rocky soils, it needs regular watering only while growing. Fast-growing and quite drought-tolerant once established.

Height: 2-3 feet

Sunlight: Full sun

With its gorgeous silver-gray foliage, this one is ideal for borders and ground covers when combined with maroon-leafed plants like ninebark or vivid flowers like bush rose, and Crane’ s-bill. Produces brown or straw-colored flower spikes in summer. The fast-growing perennial grass is tolerant of salty soils, drought, as well as heat, but grows best in cold conditions.

Width: Up to 3 feet

Sunlight : Full to partial sun

USDA Zone: 4-9

The grass species Imperata cylindrical or cogongrass is a highly invasive weed in both the US and Europe. But Japanese blood grass is a striking non-invasive cultivar that grows in tight clumps with vivid red leaf blades that add character to your garden. Tolerates dry, hot seasons, but does best with weekly watering. Make sure you want a lot of red in your garden before choosing this ornamental grass.

Width: up to 2 feet

USDA Zone: 5-9

A clump-forming, gracefully arching evergreen grass with straw-colored flower spikes appearing in summer. Draught-tolerant and can survive with irregular watering and little care. It looks like blue fescue but grows taller on average. With its blue foliage and yellowish flowers, it looks best with maroon, pink, and purple flowers like barberry, lavender, ajuga, and yucca.

Width: Up to 3 feet

USDA Zone: 3-9

Also called the bunny’s tail grass, the name comes from the feathery cream to white flower spikes that make excellent cut flowers too. It is an extremely hardy annual grass variety that can grow in all soil types from sandy to moist, well-drained soils. It has excellent drought tolerance and can be grown in almost any hardiness zone, outside of its range.

Width: Up to 2 feet

USDA Zone: 8-11

It can grow in various types of soil, from light sandy to heavy clay and loam soils. Extremely tolerant of drought, heat, and shaded conditions once established. Each thin grass blade has a narrow white border that lends a silvery color to the neat fountain-shaped foliage. The leaves turn golden or bronze in winter. Silvery pink-white flowers appear in late summer.

Width: 1-2 feet

USDA Zone: 5-9

A striking low-growing ornamental grass, growing compact mounds of delicate bushy foliage that looks pretty when swaying with the wind. Clusters of tiny yellowish or brown mildly fragrant flowers appear in spring. The foliage turns a vivid shade of bronze or gold in the fall. Deer-resistant perennial grass variety, it can tolerate dry conditions, as well as snow, staying erect and attractive even during winter.

Width: Up to 3 feet

USDA Zone: 3-9

Capable of growing in both acid and alkaline soils, this fast-growing perennial grass is a good option for beginners. The erect blue-green foliage turns a pretty rust shade in winter. Can survive in partial shade but too little sunlight, and too much water can make the foliage droop.

Width: 1.5-2 feet

USDA Zone: 3-9

A cool-season grass grows attractive variegated grey-golden foliage that has a tint of pink or purple in fall. Average care and watering needs. An excellent choice for borders, groundcover, and rock gardens.

Width: Up to 2 feet

Sunlight : Filtered sun to light shade

USDA Zone: 4-9

The first thing to keep in mind about this one is that despite its popularity as a gardening grass, it is highly invasive. So, make sure to plant it only if you can control its growth. Can grow in almost any type of soil, needing little care. Draught-tolerant once established.

Width: Up to 2 feet

USDA Zone: 7-11

A semi-evergreen perennial ornamental grass variety, it grows thick tufted foliage with relatively broad leaf blades. Grows best in moist soils, needing no special care once established. A good option for waterside gardens. It does well in containers as well.

Width: Up to 3 feet

Sunlight : Full sun to shade

USDA Zone:

Short mound-forming grass with thin wispy olive green blades with silver tips with the foliage turning bronze-brown in winter. Looks best as borders to rock gardens or along water edges. It does well with weekly or more frequent watering to keep the soil moist. Best when planted along with iris and hosta plants.

Width: Up to 2 feet

Sunlight : Full sun to full shade

USDA Zone: 6-10

One of the popular Japanese sage varieties with variegated foliage, it grows best in fertile wet soil with regular watering to keep the soil moist. Can stay evergreen in humid regions of Southern US, but not in the colder Northern areas. Suitable as a companion plant to dogwoods, bee balms, and forsythia.

Width: 1-2 feet

Sunlight : Full sun to full shade

USDA Zone: 5-9

The care requirements usually vary depending on what grass you have, but there are a few common factors. Most of these turn brown or bronze in winter, and while it renders a striking appearance, you need to cut these dry stems back to about 2 inches at the end of winter to allow new growth next season. Evergreen grasses just need trimming once every 1-2 years to keep them in shape. Most of these also need to be divided, or they may start dying in the middle.

Check with the nursery to make sure you are not getting some weedy species, as there are some popular ornamental grasses can be more or less invasive.


Zone 5 Grasses: Selecting The Best Grasses For Zone 5 Gardens - garden

Best Perennial Ornamental Grasses

With the popularity of ornamental grasses, new cultivars are being introduced every year. Finding one to suit your soil and climate conditions as well as visual preference should not be difficult. With recent weather extremes it is helpful to check with your trusted garden center to determine the best varieties for your region.

Blue Fescue: Festuca glauca This hardy perennial grass has been used for some time in gardens across the country. It is a cool season grass, evergreen in zone 5, hardy to zone 4, with some varieties hardy in zone 3. It is low growing, 6-10”, and very nicely mounded. Blue Fescue works nicely for containers, border edging, or in masses. Blue Fescue prefers sun to part shade and dry sandy soil. However does like supplemental water in dry spells. Does not like heavy wet soil.

Blue Oat Grass: Helictotrichon sempervirens Somewhat similar to Blue Fescue, Oat Grass is also a cool season grass, growing in upright clumps. It prefers sun to light shade and average to dry soil. Single sided seed heads develop in June, starting out white then turning golden. Evergreen in zone 5, hardy to zone 3 or 4. Also hardy up to 9,000 feet.

Feather Reed Grass: Calamagrostis x acutiflora This hardy perennial grass is cool season grass that is hardy to zone 4, where it becomes a warm season grass due to the cooler overall climate of the north. It has an upright narrow form and arching fronds, growing from 2 to 5 feet depending on variety. The flower spikes generally persist into winter. Feather Reed prefers medium to moist conditions and will tolerate heavy soils.

The‘Karl Foerster’ variety blooms earlier than most Feather Reed and works well where the growing season is short. Reaches about 4 to 5 feet in height and is hardy to zone 3. ‘Overdam’ has white variegated foliage and is best in light shade. It reaches 2 to 3 feet and is hardy to zone 4. ‘Avalanche’ is variegated, and ‘Eldorado’ has narrow green leaves that have bright gold centers.

Fountaingrass (perennial): Pennisetum alpecuroides Fountaingrass has been widely used by gardeners for some time. It is a warm season grass, that will do well in moderately moist to moist soil with full sun. It has been found to be hardy to zone 4, but general recommendation is zone 5. Winter protection is advised in case of severe cold in zone 4. Fountaingrass grows to a height of 3 or 4 feet Foliage is bright green and displays bottlebrush flowers. Excellent specimen plant or in containers.

Hakone Grass: Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’ A good choice for shady areas, Hakone is a hardy warm season perennial grass, to zone 4. There is a difference of opinion about whether Hakone Grass is hardy in zone 4, but this photo is from a zone 4 trial garden and it certainly looks healthy after a tough winter. Low growing at 12-20 inches, it functions well as a groundcover or in containers. It is slow growing with bright yellow foliage. Performs well in light to heavy shade in moist acidic soil. ‘Aureola’ has a cascading form supplying movement to the garden and a soft appearance. Bright variegated leaves brighten the darker corners of a shaded area.

Japanese Silvergrass: Miscanthus sinensis This particular variety of the hardy perennial, warm season grass, is 4-8 feet tall and hardy to zone 3. It’s upright stature is excellent for screening, specimen plants, large container plantings, or water features. It does very well in full sun and average to wet soils.

Miscanthus covers a large variety of grasses, and it is important that you select a reliably hardy type. ‘Silberfeder’ has wonder full plumes in fall and gets through a zone 4 winter well. It is vase shaped with silver mid rib foliage.

‘Strictus’ is hardy only to zone 5, perhaps marginally in zone 4, and grows well in full sun to part shade. Also known as porcupine grass, it has stiff leaves with yellow bands. It is very eyecatching and brightens a dark corner or complements darker plants. Some Silvergrass can be invasive and should only be grown in cultivated and tended areas rather than near natural habitats such as prairie or woodland, where it can invade unchecked.

Red Baron Japanese Blood Grass

Japanese Blood Grass: Imperata Japanese Blood Grass is a wonderful red tipped ornamental grass that develops increasingly redder as it matures each season. By autumn it is blood red. If any blades revert to green they should be removed to preserve the overall red color. It requires very little but sun to part shade with moist well drained soil. Granular fertilizer may be applied around the base of the plant about every 6 weeks, do not allow the granules to contact the foliage. Remove the foliage after the first freeze. Some of the Blood Grass spreads very aggressively, ‘Rubra’ and ‘Red Baron’ are much more controlled. Divide in spring to propagate more plants and to control size. Hardy in zones 5-9. Imperata cylindrica ‘Red Baron’ is hardy to zone 4 and is pictured here. Reaching 12-18” tall and spreading 24-35” wide, the bright green blades have red tips. Compact enough to use in small spaces or for accents.

June Grass: Koeleria macrantha June Grass is a hardy perennial to zone 3 and is tough enough to take some foot traffic. It is a small cool season grass growing to 12-18” high and is great for tough sights. It has a tight growth habit making it good for borders, along paths in both sun or shade. Showy white flower panicles appear in June, followed by straw colored seed heads. June Grass is a host for butterfly larvae. It prefers average to dry soil, and is also hardy to 11,000 feet.

Lemon Grass: Cymbopogon citratus Lemon Grass is a beautiful annual grass grown not only for its’ accent qualities, but for its’ citrus aroma and as a cooking herb. It is a bright mounded plant growing about 2 feet high. Grow it in pots and bring it indoors at the first sign of frost.

Little Blue Stem: Schizachyrium scoparium Little Blue Stem is a warm season grass that grows best in dry conditions. It is a hardy perennial to zone 4, but found to be hardy in zone 3. Clumps are green to blue-green with fluffy white seed plumes. Fall color is orange to red. Little Blue Stem does best grown in clay soil that is not wet, and tolerates light shade and drought. The University of Minnesota released a new ‘Blue Heaven’ in 2011 that should also be hardy to zone 3. Foliage is bluish with burgundy tones, and silvery white seed heads for wonderful fall color.

Pampas Grass: Cortaderia selloana ‘Pumila’ is a dwarf Pampas Grass. Pampas is an annual warm season grass, this dwarf variety growing to about 3 feet. ‘Pumila’ is more cold hardy than tender pampas grass and may be semi perennial once established up to zone 5, hardy to zone 6. Pampas is commonly grown for it’s showy fluffy white flower heads.

Pennsylvania Sedge: Carex pennsylvanica Sedge is a low growing ground cover, cool season hardy perennial grass. They generally reach about 6-12” high and are fine textured and nicely mounded. They will do well in sun or shade in average and dry soil. Sedge grass is hardy to zone 3. There are varieties that will do well in more shade, some do well in very compacted soils, more diversity every year. Blue sedge, ‘Carex flacca’, does well in some shade and is very hardy.

Prairie Dropseed: Sporobolus heterolepis Prairie Dropseed is a hardy perennial grass that is interesting throughout the growing season. It has emerald green foliage with fine textured seed heads and is gold to orang-red in fall. It is a very long living native plant with a graceful arching form of thin delicate leaves. A warm season plant, it prefers full sun and average to dry soils and is hardy to zone 3. Growing to 2 or 3 feet it is excellent for small spaces.

Purple Moorgrass: Molina caerulea A hardy perennial grass with attractive clumps of light green upright arching flower stems. Foliage turns yellow in fall and brown, yellow or purple flowers fade to tan. Purple Moorgrass is a cool to warm season grass hardy to zone 3 or 4 that self seeds. Generally midsize to tall, 5 to 7 feet. Prefers full sun and average to wet soil and does not like high alkaline soil. Mature leaves and flowers break off at the base reducing winter interest. ‘Skyracer’ has tall spires of airy heads that work well to anchor tall structures or as a finishing point of a garden. ‘Heidebraut’ is more compact at 4 feet, and ‘Moorhexe’ is compact with purple flowers.

Silver Spikegrass: Spodiopogon sibiricus A warm season grass that does well in a variety of soils and is hardy to zone 3. Silver spikegrass has a shrublike upright form that has bold dark green foliage, turning yellow orange or red in fall. It serves well as screening or a hedge and is a long term performer. It grows up to 4 feet with fine flower heads a foot above the foliage. It prefers full sun but will do fine in light shade, and average to moist soils.

Switchgrass: Panicum virgatum This hardy perennial grass prefers full sun and moderate to moist soil. It is a warm season grass. Switchgrass grows to 3 to 6 feet tall with stiff upright clumps and showy, airy flowers of pink, red or silver in midsummer. Will tolerate soil quality extremes. Hardiness varies by variety from zones 3 to 4b. Switchgrass attracts birds and does reseed. Use for screening, water gardens or prairie gardens.

‘Heavy Metal’ has been prone to rust, but ‘Northwind’ is an improved variety. It has wide bluish foliage and upright habit that can make an excellent focal point in a garden or landscape. ‘Dewey Blue’ is generally found in dry sandy coastal areas of the east and southeast, but is very hardy and does well in the midwest and even north, found to be hardy to zone 4. It grows to 4 feet tall with a graceful habit and blue foliage. Airy panicles of tan flowers appear in late summer, with seed heads that hang on through winter.

Tufted Hairgrass: Deschampsia caespitosa A cool season grass preferring moderate to moist soil but does not like clay, it is hardy to zone 3. Tufted hairgrass will need some supplemental watering. Dark green tufted foliage has airy flower panicles that change from green to yellow then nearly purple. Grows to 3 or 4 feet in full sun or light shade. ‘Northern Lights’ has cream, gold and pink vareigation and does not bloom. Also hardy to 12,000 feet.

Many gardeners have not experimented with ornamental grasses yet, here are a few of ideas for uses as well as even more varieties to consider:

Hemeln Fountain Grass Penniseturn alopecuroide

Calamagrotstis brachytrica Korean Feather Reed Grass

Muhlenbergia capillaris Pink Muhly Grass

Pennisetum 'Phoenix Magenta' Grass

Pink paintbrush grass Melinis nerviglumis 'Savannah'


The Prettiest Ornamental Grasses for Sun and Shade

Gorgeous ornamental grasses add movement, color and texture to gardens made in the shade or sun.

Related To:

Japanese Forest Grass

Choose Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola’ for shady spots. This ornamental grass, hardy in Zones 4-9, is lovely in borders, as a groundcover or container plant, or in Zen or Asian-style gardens. The yellow leaves, which have narrow, green stripes, become slightly pink when the temperatures drop. Commonly called Golden Japanese Forest Grass, the plants tolerate partial shade to partial sun. Use their sunny color to brighten up rock gardens and woodlands.

Fountain Grass

Let the sunshine in. Fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides) 'Hameln' flowers best in full sun, although it can take partial shade. Hardy in Zones 5-9, the plants produce fluffy, buff-colored blooms from late summer to fall birds are attracted to their seeds. This ornamental grass grows 18-30" tall in spreading clumps. In urban areas, 'Hameln' withstands drought and air pollution. It can also tolerate the wet soil in a rain garden.

Carex

Sun-loving carex, commonly called leatherleaf sedge, isn’t really an ornamental grass, but it looks like one and can be used like one. ColorGrass Carex 'Amazon Mist' forms mounds of leaves that are pale green on top and silvery-white below they almost shimmer when they're stirred by a breeze. At just 6-12" high, this sedge plays nicely with other plants in containers or small garden spaces. It's hardy in Zones 6-10.

Orange New Zealand Sedge

Fall brings out the vivid orange colors of Carex testacea, another sedge that can be used as an ornamental grass. Hardy in Zones 6-10, the fine foliage, which starts out bronze-green, takes full to filtered sun and tolerates partial shade. Deer and rabbits tend to leave the plants alone. Let Orange New Zealand Sedge spill over the sides of containers or use it in borders. It grows in clumps that reach 18-24" tall.

Mexican Feather Grass

Mexican feather grass (Stipa tenuissima) looks like a fountain of foliage, with very fine, green leaves that mature to pale gold. Hardy in Zones 7-10, it blooms from late summer to fall and reseeds easily, so it's not recommended for California, where it's considered an emerging invasive species. Elsewhere, it's a great ornamental grass for sunny rock gardens, slopes or meadows. This variety, Colorgrass Stipa 'Pony Tails’, grows 16-24" tall and needs only occasional watering after it's established.

Ornamental Millet

Help the bees, birds, and butterflies that pollinate our foods and flowers by planting ornamental millet (Pennisetum glaucum). 'Copper Prince' thrives in shade to partial sun or full sun. Its broad leaves change from a caramel color to coppery-bronze as they mature, and handsome panicles that look like fluffy fox tails shoot up in late summer. This annual grows 24-36" tall and adds a dramatic punch to containers or mixed beds.

Umbrella Grass

Look at the tips of Cyperus involucratus, and you’ll see why this plant is called umbrella grass: the leaflets on top of the stems look like umbrella spokes. Graceful Grasses 'Baby Tut’ is happy in part sun to sun and thrives in beds, containers or water gardens. At 18-24" tall, the plants, which are actually sedges, can grow in ponds as long as the crowns stay above the water. In the garden, they need moist soil until they’re established. Treat them as annuals if you live outside Zones 9-11.

Scottish Tufted Hair Grass

This isn't the kind of hair you want to run through your fingers, but Deschampsia cespitosa 'Schottland’ is a handsome addition to small garden spaces and containers. It's hardy in Zones 4-9 and forms clumps of dark green foliage that grow 2-3' tall. Yellow panicles appear in summer, followed by golden-bronze seed heads. Give it full shade to partial sun. Birds love these evergreen plants.

Purple Fountain Grass

Purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setacum 'Rubrum’) is known for its arching stems of burgundy leaves. This heat-tolerant ornamental grass is suitable for partial sun to sunny spots and matures at 13-36". Leave the dried foliage and seed heads on the plants at the end of the growing season, and they'll provide winter interest. (But remove them if you live in a dry climate or anywhere else there is a danger of fire). These containers of purple fountain grass are mixed with orange portulacas and yellow-green sedums.

Pink Muhly Grass

'Plumetastic' Pink Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) has a mounding growth habit, with green, grass-like foliage. It earns its name in the fall, when fluffy, pink "clouds" of flowers appear. This ornamental grass is easy to grow, deer resistant, and tolerant of heat, drought, and poor soils. Hardy in Zones 6-9, it reaches 18-36" tall and takes full sun to light shade. Use the dried flowers in arrangements or leave them uncut for late fall and winter interest.


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