General gardening topics

10 Ornamental Grasses For Shade

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I’ve talked alot in the past about how many ornamental grasses can be grown in positions where many other plants fail and growing grasses in general. I’ve even written an article on which grasses grow well on pots and even took it a step further with evergreen grasses. However, in this guide, I want to focus on the ornamental grasses that grow well in more shady positions, such as in a north-facing garden that barely sees the sun, under trees or simply on a shaded patio. If you have a shady position in the garden, the grasses I recommend below are well worth considering.

Ornamental grasses offer many advantages for those challenging shady areas. Grasses are very resilient plants that bring colour and texture to spaces where other plants might struggle, transforming them into lush, dynamic parts of your garden.

Some ornamental grasses thriving under the canopy of some shade in a garden
Some ornamental grasses thriving under the canopy of some shade in a garden

When choosing the right variety of ornamental grasses for your garden, it’s important to consider not just how shady the area actually is, as there are different types of shades well as the soil conditions. Is the soil mainly dry or wet? Soil? For example, there’s an ornamental grass suited to dry soiled, perhaps under a large tree, while other grasses may prefer moist but well-drained soil such as in a north-facing garden in an open border that’s not particularly shaded from above, so it gets plenty of rain still.

Stipa arundinacea growing under trees
Stipa growing under trees

In my guide from personal expernece from being a gardener for over 20 years, I recommend a selection of grasses that are particularly well-suited to partially shaded positions, including ‘Imperata cylindrica’ (Blood Grass), known for its striking red tips; ‘Stipa arundinacea’ (Pheasant’s Tail Grass), which offers a beautiful display of changing colours; ‘Hakonechloa macra’ and ‘Hakonechloa All Gold’, both favourites of mine because of their cascading foliage and vibrant colour; and Ophiopogon planiscapus commonly known as black grass plus a few other interesting types of grass. Further down in my guide, you’ll find specific advantages certain varieties offer, from drought tolerance to low maintenance.


1. Imperata cylindrica ‘Rubra’ (Blood grass)

Imperata cylindrica 'Rubra'
Imperata cylindrica ‘Rubra’ – Blood grass

One of my favourite grasses is called Imperata cylindrica ‘Rubra’, commonly known as Blood Grass. This ornamental grass adds a striking deep red colour to any garden, especially those with partial shade that need something to make it pop. Its ability to thrive in both full sun and partial shade makes it an excellent choice for gardeners looking to brighten up north-facing gardens or any positions that don’t receive much sun.

Blood Grass thrives best in well-drained soil and prefers a spot that gets a mix of sun and shade throughout the day. This balance encourages the most vibrant colouration of its foliage. Although it is relatively low maintenance, as are most grasses, ensuring the soil remains moist, especially in dryer conditions, will help it thrive and get the most out of it.

Blood Grass is what I think of as winter hardy. However, in colder climates such as up north, I recommend adding a layer of mulch to protect its roots over the winter once it has died back for dinner.

In terms of eventual height and spread, it gets to around 18 to 24 inches tall. Something also worth noting is that it is also ideal for container growing, making it perfect for a patio, too. When it comes to care, this grass does not require much pruning; simply cut back the dead foliage either in aluminium or in early spring before new growth starts.


2. Stipa arundinacea (Pheasant’s Tail Grass)

Stipa arundinacea, more commonly known as Pheasant’s Tail Grass, is an ornamental grass that is just as at home in a shady position as it is in full sun. Its fine leaves transition from green to copper and golden hues as it matures, offering colour all year round, even in a partial shade position. This adaptability makes it ideal for spots in the garden that might not get full sun, such as north-facing gardens or under the canopy of a tree, large border or even in a container. However, it does prefer well-drained soil but is tolerant of various soil types, establishing itself as a low-maintenance and drought-resistant option once mature.

Reaching an eventual height and spread of 2ft to 3ft (20-30cm), Pheasant’s Tail Grass, as I usually refer to it, is perfect for year-round colour, enriching mixed borders, or even as a focal point in containers, maybe with a few pansies planted around it. It produces feathery foliage and oat-like flowers in late summer to autumn, adding a visually appealing garden scene when many other plants are past their best. A combination of low maintenance care and adaptability to partial shade makes Stipa arundinacea a superb choice for gardeners looking to add a touch of elegance and natural beauty to their outdoor spaces in a partial shade spot in the garden.


3. Hakonechloa macra – Japanese Forest Grass

This adaptable ornamental grass loves shady areas. It produces loose, cascading foliage that arches and moves in the wind. The colours range from solid green to variegated, to bright gold as pictured above so there is something for everyone. The plant grows between 20-50cm in spread and around 20-50cm in height.

This adaptable ornamental grass loves shady areas. It produces loose, cascading foliage that arches and moves in the wind. The colours available range from solid green to variegated, to bright gold (as pictured above) so there is something for everyone. The plant grows between 20-50cm in spread and around 20-50cm in height. It is easy to grow, requires little maintenance, and like all ornamental grasses has the resiliency against pests and diseases. The golden varieties such as ‘Aureola’ are perfect for shade as they are bright and stands out even in the shade, which is what we are looking for in grasses to plant in a shady area of the garden. Grows well in exposed or sheltered areas and will thrive in most moist but well-drained soils.


4. Hakonechloa ‘All Gold’

As the name suggests, this plant is all gold in colour, bright yellow atop a green base. The stems are quite slender and the bright yellow foliage takes on the appearance of small bamboo. It spreads slowly and gently via rhizomes, perfect for containers or mixed borders and only grows to around 40cm

As the name suggests, this plant is golden in colour, bright yellow atop a green base. The stems are quite slender and the bright yellow foliage takes on the appearance of small bamboo. It spreads slowly and gently via rhizomes, making it perfect for containers or mixed borders because it only grows to approximately 40cm. This is a very hardy variety that prefers partial shade, however, it does also grow well in full sun in moist humus-rich soil. This variety does die back for the winter so mulching in autumn with a layer of compost is recommended.


5. Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ – Black Mondo Grass

If you want an ornamental grass like no other for your shady area, consider this black grass. It truly catches the eye with its rich black coloured leaves and in summer it's light pink flowers that crawl up the stems. This is ideal for ground cover, filling a shady area with pink flowers that seem to pop out of nowhere. At its maturity, it will span just shy of 30cm wide and tall.

If you want ornamental grasses like no other for your shady area, consider this black grass. It truly catches the eye with its rich coloured leaves and in summer it’s light pink flowers that crawl up the stems. This is ideal for groundcover and filling a shady area with pink flowers that seem to pop out of nowhere. At its maturity, it will span just shy of 30cm wide and tall.


6. Uncinia rubra – Red Hook Sedge

Known as the firedance, this compact sedge is a rich red, bronze colour and is absolutely stunning. If you are looking to add a splash of colour, this mound-shaped grass is it. The leaves have vertical accents of red along with the otherwise olive green leaves so it creates unique clumps that juxtapose other verdant plants or grasses you grow with it.

This compact sedge is a rich red, bronze colour and is absolutely stunning. If you are looking to add a splash of colour, this mound-shaped grass is perfect. The leaves have vertical accents of red along with the otherwise olive green leaves so it creates unique clumps that contrasts the other verdant plants or grasses you grow alongside it. This grass needs to be planted in partial shade, in a sheltered position and in well-drained soil. It’s worth mentioning that it can be grown in full sun but does need moist soil to thrive.


7. Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’

Grow this in well-drained soil, with partial shade or full shade. An ornamental grass it has beautiful green, yellow foliage, turning reddish tinged in autumn and produces seed heads, which makes it stand apart from many other ornamental grasses. Plant in fertile well-drained soil and a sheltered or exposed position. Finally, it is somewhat of a smaller type of grass only growing to around 20-30cm.

Grow this in well-drained soil, with partial shade or full shade. An ornamental grass that has beautiful green, yellow foliage, turning reddish tinged in autumn and produces seed heads, which makes it stand apart from many other ornamental grasses. Plant in fertile well-drained soil and a sheltered or exposed position. Finally, it is somewhat of a smaller type of grass only growing to around 20-30cm.


8. Deschampsia cespitosa – Tufted Hair Grass

Known as the tufted hair grass, this plant produces hair-like blades of green and yellow grass that grow in tufts. It forms clumps and grows in low, dense groups. There are flowers that cover the foliage come summer that takes on tones of purple, green, gold and silver, forming a cloud of colour above the foliage. They attract birds well and are tolerant of air pollution so you can plant them along borders near the road without issue. 


9. Luzula nivea – Snow Rush

This grass, like many others, is resistant to pests and diseases and is very hardy. It is known for its snow-white blooms that grow on top of slender, rich green stems. The evergreen is clump-forming with medium blade widths. Small, it will reach between 30-40cm at its full maturity but the flower stems can reach some 60cm tall. It can be grown in sheltered or exposed sites and grows well in partial or full shade which makes it a great contender for this list. Will grow in nearly all soils types from poor to fertile as long as its well-drained.

This grass, like many others, is resistant to pests and diseases and is very hardy. It is known for its snow-white flowers that grow on top of slender, rich green stems. The evergreen grass has a clump-forming habit with medium blade widths. Small, it will reach between 30-40cm at its full maturity but the flower stems can reach some 60cm tall. It can be grown in sheltered or exposed sites and grows well in the partial or full shade, which makes it a great contender for this list. Will grow in nearly all soil types from poor to fertile as long as it’s well-drained.


10. Carex ‘Ice Dance’

This plant is commonly called sedge. It blooms between April and July with insignificant flowers so the foliage is what everybody is talking about. Like all ornamental grasses, it is best known for its colourful leaves.

This plant is commonly called sedge and it flowers between April and July, producing insignificant flowers so the foliage is what does the talking. Like all ornamental grasses, it is best known for its colourful leaves. This grass grows best in partial shade or full shade and requires moist but well-drained soil. The thin blades of grass grow in rich, verdant shades and span upwards of 10-50cm with a spread of around the same. What makes this grass a little special is that it does grow well in very shady areas, where other plants may fail.

No matter which of these ornamental grasses you choose you can now fill an otherwise dull shady part of your garden with something stunning, simple and easy to maintain. What’s more, you don’t need to settle for just one. If some of these seem very appealing you can mix and match so that you enjoy a multitude of colours and textures.

Last update on 2024-02-06 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Welcome to my site, my name is John and I have been lucky enough to work in horticultural nurseries for over 15 years in the UK. As the founder and editor as well as researcher, I have a City & Guilds Horticultural Qualifications which I proudly display on our About us page. I now work full time on this website where I review the very best gardening products and tools and write reliable gardening guides. Behind this site is an actual real person who has worked and has experience with the types of products we review as well as years of knowledge on the topics we cover from actual experience. You can reach out to me at john@pyracantha.co.uk

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