Gardening Ornamental grass Shade Gardening

Grasses to Plant Where the Sun Don’t Shine

20171017A Luzula_sylvatica Jerzy Opiola, WC
Greater woodrush (Luzula sylvatica) is an excellent example of a shade-tolerant ornamental grass. It will grow and even flourish in the deepest shade! Source: Jerzy Opiola, Wikimedia Commons

When you think of ornamental grasses, an image of a sunny meadow generally comes to mind and indeed, most grass species are native to prairies, steppes and other grasslands, not forests. But does that mean there are no grasses that will grow in shady spots?

Of course not! Even in the very darkest forests, there are some species of grass—both true grasses (plants in the Poaceae or grass family) and grasslike plants from other families, like the Cyperaceae and the Juncaceae—that do very well indeed, even in dry shade. The vast majority of sedges (Carex spp.), for example, adapt very well to shade.

What follows is a list of grasses that easily adapt to at least moderate shade. Most, in fact, do fine in deep shade. If you grow them among dense tree roots (i.e. dry shade), though, here are a few tips on how to get them started.

Shade Grasses

20171017B Chasmanthium latifolium HC
Northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) is a classic shade-tolerant ornamental grass. Source:
  1. Appalachian Sedge (Carex appalachica) zone 4
  2. Autumn sedge (Carex dipsacea) zone 5
  3. Bambou marginé (Sasa veitchii) zone 6
  4. Big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) zone 4
  5. Black sedge (Carex nigra) zone 4
  6. Blue lilyturf (Liriope muscari) zone 6
  7. Blue moor grass (Sesleria caerulea) zone 4
  8. Blue sedge (Carex flacca) zone 5
  9. Blue wood sedge (Carex flaccosperma) zone 5
  10. Blue-green moor grass (Sesleria heufleriana) zone 4
  11. Bluejoint Grass (Calamagrostis canadensis) zone 3
  12. Bottlebrush grass (Hystrix patula) zone 3

    The bright yellow leaves of Bowles golden sedge (Carex elata ‘Aurea’) certainly light up a shady corner! Source:
  13. Bowles golden sedge (Carex elata ‘Aurea’) zone 5
  14. Bristle-leaf sedge (Carex eburnea) zone 2
  15. Broadleaf sedge (Carex siderosticha) zone 4
  16. Brown sedge (Carex buxbaumii) zone 3
  17. Bur sedge (Carex grayii) zone 2
  18. Bur-reed Sedge (Carex sparganioides) zone 4
  19. Bushgrass (Calamagrostis epigejos) zone 3
  20. Catlin sedge (Carex texensis) zone 5
  21. Chinese pink fairy sedge (Carex scaposa) zone 6b
  22. Common wood sedge (Carex blanda) zone 3
  23. Creek sedge (Carex amphibola) zone 3
  24. Creeping lilyturf (Liriope spicata) zone 6
  25. Creeping sedge (Carex laxiculmis) zone 4
  26. Curly wood sedge (Carex rosea) zone 4
  27. Davall’s sedge (Carex davalliana) zone 4
  28. Drooping sedge (Carex pendula) zone 5
  29. Dwarf lilyturf (Ophiopogon japonicus) zone 6
  30. Dwarf whitestripe bamboo (Pleioblastus fortunei) zone 5
  31. Eastern star sedge (Carex radiata) zone 4
  32. Feather reed grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora) zone 3

    20171017F Deschampsia cespitosa Matt Lavin, Flickr
    Tufted hair grass (Deschampsia cespitosa) is a widely adapted grass that does fine in both sun and shade. Source: Matt Lavin, Flickr
  33. Field sedge (Carex praegracilis) zone 3
  34. Fox sedge (Carex vulpinoidea) zone 3
  35. Foxtail grass (Alopecurus pratensis) zone 4
  36. Fringed sedge (Carex crinita) zone 3
  37. Golden wood millet (Millium effusum ‘Aureum’) zone 5
  38. Goldfruit sedge (Carex aureolensis) zone 5
  39. Greater woodrush (Luzula sylvatica) zone 4
  40. Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa macra) zone 4
  41. Japanese sedge (Carex morrowii) zone 5
  42. Korean reed grass (Calamagrostis brachytricha, syn. C. arundinacea) zone 4
  43. Lawn Sedge (Carex leavenworthii) zone 6
  44. Long beaked sedge (Carex sprengelii) zone 3
  45. Mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus) zone 6
  46. Northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) zone 4
  47. Oak sedge (Carex albicans) zone 4
  48. Oriental fountain grass (Pennisetum orientalis) zone 6
  49. Oshima sedge (Carex oshimensis) zone 5
  50. Palm sedge (Carex muskingumensis) zone 2

    20171017E Carex pennsylvanica, Susan Harris, Flickr
    Properly spaced, Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica) makes an excellent lawn grass for shade. Source: usan Harris, Flickr
  51. Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica) zone 3
  52. Pheasant tail grass (Anemanthele lessoniana, syn. Stipa arundinacea) zone 8
  53. Plains oval sedge (Carex brevior) zone 3
  54. Prairie sedge (Carex bicknellii) zone 3
  55. Pretty sedge (Carex woodii) zone 4
  56. Purple moor grass (Molinia caerulea) zone 3
  57. Pygmy bamboo (Pleioblastus pygmaeus) zone 5

    20171017C Carex plantaginea Jay Sturner, Flickr
    Seersucker sedge (Carex plantaginea). Source: Jay Sturner, Flickr
  58. Seersucker sedge, plantainleaf sedge (Carex plantaginea) zone 4
  59. Silver sedge (Carex platyphylla) zone 4
  60. Snowy woodrush (Luzula nivea) zone 3
  61. Spear grass (Achnatherum calamagrostis, syn. Stipa calamagrostis) zone 5
  62. Spring sedge, vernal sedge (Carex caryophyllea) zone 5
  63. Striped tuber oat grass (Arrhenatherum elatius bulbosum ‘Variegatum’) zone 4
  64. Sweet Flag (Acorus gramineus) zone 4
  65. Tall moor grass (Molinia arundincaea) zone 4
  66. Tufted hair grass (Deschampsia cespitosa) zone 2
  67. Veitch’s bamboo (Sasa veitchii) zone 6
  68. Wavy hair grass (Deschampsia flexuosa) zone 420171017A Luzula_sylvatica Jerzy Opiola, WC

6 comments on “Grasses to Plant Where the Sun Don’t Shine

  1. Linda Bradley

    Trying to find a seed source for Carex Albicans or White Tinged Sedge or Pennsylvania. Or something similar Wanted for large dry mostly shady area under cedar canopy. Zone 5 in Canada. Any ideas? Thanks.

  2. Why is my Carex amphibola so spread-out and flat-looking — not arching? I planted it one year ago in shady, rich soil.

    • It sounds like it’s getting too much shade. It is shade tolerant, but reacts differently under different conditions. Under yours, it seems to need a bit more sun.

Leave a Reply

Sign up for the Laidback Gardener blog and receive articles in your inbox every morning!

%d bloggers like this: