Bring Movement and Texture to Partly Shaded Areas with Ornamental Grasses

Ornamental grasses lend incredible visual interest to gardens with their graceful, arching foliage and airy plumes. While most grasses thrive in full sun, there are quite a few varieties well-suited for part shade conditions. Part shade refers to spots getting 4-6 hours of sun per day, often dappled light through trees in the morning or afternoon.

When shopping for ornamental grasses for part shade, look for varieties described as tolerant of “part sun” or “partial shade” on the plant tag or in the plant description. Grass species naturally growing in woodland environments also tend to adapt well to part shade.

Let’s explore some beautiful ornamental grasses perfect for illuminating and animating partly shaded garden beds, borders, and containers.

Sea Oats

Few grasses rival the elegance of sea oats (Chasmanthium) in the shade garden. These upright grasses emerge with arching green foliage that transforms to coppery bronze in fall. Delicate, dangling oat-like seed heads flutter in the breeze, bringing wonderful movement. Northern sea oats (C. latifolium) and inland sea oats (C. sessiliflorum) reach 2-4 feet tall. Plant sea oats in groups to create captivating drifts of texture.

Variegated Japanese Forest Grass

Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra) offers gracefully cascading foliage reminiscent of a woodland stream The bright yellow stripes of Hakonechloa ‘Aureola’ illuminate shaded sites This semi-evergreen grass spreads slowly into a lush, mounding form around 1-2 feet tall and wide. Its relatively fine texture contrasts beautifully with broad-leaved perennials and ferns.

Dwarf Chinese Silver Grass

A compact ornamental grass growing just 12-18 inches tall, dwarf Chinese silver grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Little Kitten’) fits nicely into small-scale gardens. Its fine-textured leaves emerge green and take on silver hues in summer and fall. Airy plumes appear in autumn for added interest. This clump-forming miscanthus spreads slowly, making a lovely rounded shape.

Variegated Ribbon Grass

Sometimes called gardener’s garters for its resemblance to knitted socks, variegated ribbon grass (Phalaris arundinacea ‘Picta’) grows 18-24 inches tall in dense tufts. The leaves display lengthwise white stripes along green blades, providing color and visual impact. Ribbon grass thrives in moist soils and tolerates more shade than many ornamental grasses. Mass several together for a bold statement.

Pennsylvania Sedge

An excellent substitute for turf grass in shady areas, Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica) forms a lush emerald green carpet 4-8 inches high. This attractive North American native sedge handles light foot traffic. It spreads via underground rhizomes to cover ground and choke out weeds. Pennsylvania sedge needs minimal mowing or care once established. It combines nicely with early bulbs and perennials.

Evergreen Sedge

Evergreen sedge (Carex morrowii) brings year-round verdant color to partly shaded garden beds or pathways. Its graceful weeping foliage forms dense mats around 5-7 inches tall. This Japanese native tolerates foot traffic and dry shade once established. Evergreen sedge can spread aggressively, so be diligent about containing it. Use it as a living mulch or edging.

Dwarf Mondo Grass

Mondo and lilyturf grasses are not true grasses but have a similar appearance. With glossy dark green strap-like foliage, dwarf mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus ‘Nanus’) creates a lush, uniform green carpet at just 2-5 inches tall. It spreads slowly via underground rhizomes. Mondo grass does well under trees and shrubs. It combines beautifully with ferns, hostas, and Epimediums.

Big Bluestem

One of the taller ornamental grasses for part shade, big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) reaches up to 6 feet high at maturity. Blue-green foliage turns golden bronze after first frost. Fluffy silver seed heads wave elegantly above the plant in fall. Big bluestem prefers moist, well-drained soil but adapts to part shade and dry soils when established. Use it as a striking vertical accent.

Maiden Grass Cultivars

While most maiden grass varieties (Miscanthus) need full sun, a few tolerate part shade. Silberfeder (M. sinensis ‘Silberfeder’) displays arching silver-banded foliage on a 5-foot plant. Silver Shadow (‘Silver Shadow’) forms a narrow vase shape with silver-striped leaves. Little Zebra (‘Little Zebra’) is a dwarf maiden grass, only 3 feet tall, with horizontal yellow banding.

Switch Grass

A star of the autumn garden, switch grass (Panicum virgatum) lights up with red and orange foliage in fall months. Airy pink flower sprays add lovely color. Look for switch grass cultivars like ‘Heavy Metal’, ‘Shenandoah’, and ‘Northwind’ that can adapt to part sun. Plant switch grass as specimens or dramatic masses to make an impact.

Japanese Silver Grass

While most miscanthus maiden grasses demand full sun, Japanese silver grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Variegatus’) will tolerate part shade. Its graceful arching foliage displays white vertical stripes that light up shady spots. Japanese silver grass forms impressive vase-shaped clumps 5-7 feet tall. Silvery plumes appear in late summer. Give it rich moist soil.

Part Shade Sedges

Sedges offer incredible versatility, texture, and durability for partly shaded gardens. In addition to Pennsylvania and evergreen sedges already mentioned, some top performers in part sun include:

  • Palm sedge (Carex muskingumensis) – tight green clumps with palm-like foliage

  • Frosted curls sedge (Carex comans ‘Frosted Curls’) – blue-green leaves with white margins

  • Variegated Japanese sedge (Carex morrowii ‘Variegata’) – creamy stripes on slender green leaves

  • European woodland sedge (Carex sylvatica) – bright green arched foliage, spreads slowly

Give Grasses Room to Shine

When planting ornamental grasses in part shade, give them sufficient space to achieve their full shapely form without crowding. Tall background grasses like miscanthus, panicum, and big bluestem need several feet between planting holes for air circulation and growth.

Smaller grasses for part sun used in bed plantings or edging can be spaced 1-2 feet apart. Grasses that spread aggressively like sedges may only need 1 foot spacing. Be prepared to divide ornamental grasses every few years if they outgrow their space.

Accent Shade Gardens with Ornamental Grasses

While often playing supporting roles in sunny gardens, ornamental grasses for part shade take center stage as specimens or mass plantings in shaded landscape beds. They make fantastic see-through screens or partitions to subtly divide space. Edge a partly shaded patio with grasses for softness.

Mix grasses into partly shaded containers to add height, movement, and contrast to flowers and foliage. Evergreen grasses bring structure to winter beds. Use grass plumes and seed heads in dried arrangements. With so many options, grasses can transform problematic shade with beauty!

The best ornamental grasses for shade


Can ornamental grass grow in part shade?

Partially Shady Ornamental Grasses Many grasses perform well in either partial or full sun. Partial shade often means the shade is during just part of the day or it can be a dappled light area. Some good selections might be Japanese forest grass or sedge plants.

What is the best grass for partial shade?

Shade-tolerant grasses such as St. Augustine and zoysia can handle partial shade conditions.

Will purple fountain grass grow in shade?

Purple fountain grass will tolerate some light shade, but it prefers to be planted in full sunlight. Look for an area in your garden where it will receive bright light at least six to eight hours a day.

Will zebra grass grow in shade?

Provide full sun for optimal growth. If the plant is in too much shade, the leaf blades can get floppy, but you can provide a stake or even a tomato cage to help prop them upright.

What grasses grow in shade?

Here are some recommendations for grasses for shady sites. I know of no tall grasses (4 feet or more) that grow in shade. (Aruncus, goat’s beard, and Thalictrum meadow rue, however, are tall shade-loving perennials).

Can ornamental grass grow in shade?

Most ornamental grasses grow best in full sun (at least 8 hours of bright sunlight daily), but few thrive in low-light spots. The following eight easy-to-grow ornamental grasses for shade can be planted on the north side of your home, under the canopy of a large tree, and anywhere in shadow most of the day.

Where can I plant ornamental grass for shade?

The following eight easy-to-grow ornamental grasses for shade can be planted on the north side of your home, under the canopy of a large tree, and anywhere in shadow most of the day. These grasses almost effortlessly brighten up shaded areas of your landscape, adding instant texture and movement year-round. 1. Northern Sea Oats

What are the best ornamental grasses?

Ornamental grasses are a great way to add greenery and interest to the shadier corners of your landscaping. Below is a list of the best ornamental grasses to help you choose the right one for your garden. 1. Tufted Hair Grass Tufted hair grass, otherwise known as deschampia cespitosa or tussock grass, is a popular choice of ornamental grass.

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