Ornamental Grasses for Water-Wise Landscapes

Water Conservation for Lawn and Landscape September 22, 2015 Print Friendly and PDF

A Blue oat grass plant in a garden


Blue oat grass (Helicotrichon semprivirens) makes a bold statement in a water-wise landscape.
Photo credit: Josh S. Jackson, Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0


Extremely drought tolerant Indian rice grass (Achnatherum hymenoides) is adapted to high light and low moisture habitats has a delicate open feathery look
Photo source: Utah Water-Wise Plants

Ornamental grasses are becoming increasingly popular for use in water-wise landscape designs. Combined with drought tolerant perennials, ornamental grasses can create a strong visual impact from summer through the winter season.

Characteristics of Ornamental Grasses

  • Most ornamental grasses require full sun
  • Many species of ornamental grasses are drought tolerant
  • Different ornamental grass species bloom either in summer or fall  depending if they are cool or warm season plants
  • Are available in a wide array of sizes, forms, leaf colors, and textures
  • Can create movement in the landscape
  • Low maintenance
  • May need periodic dividing if center of the plant die out

Note that not all ornamental grasses are water-wise and that some species will not survive in all US regions.  Also keep in mind that some ornamental grasses can be invasive, especially those that spread by rhizomes or have unusually high seed germination.

Consult reputable local plant nurseries and Cooperative Extension Service offices for more information about drought tolerant ornamental grasses adapted to your area. 


Additional Resources:


California - Ornamental Grasses as Lawn Alternative
Colorado - Ornamental Grasses (list of drought and moderately drought tolerant grasses)
Idaho - Ornamental Grasses for Idaho Landscapes


Minnesota - Ornamental Grasses for Cold Climates
Missouri - Ornamental Grasses


Pennsylvania - The Drought - Ornamental Garden


Florida - Considerations for Selection and Use of Ornamental Grasses
North Carolina - Promoting Poaceae
South Carolina - Ornamental Grasses


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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.