Hardy ornamental grasses for the northern region

I’ve always been a little jealous of the folks in warmer climates who have the tall, flowing ornamental grasses growing in their yards. Here in the zone 4 region, tall, hardy ornamental grasses are hard to come by. Some do well for a few seasons, but eventually succumb to the elements. I’m assuming they were zone 5 grasses

Recently I discovered a couple of tall ornamental grasses that should be able to handle our tough winters.  

One of the new zone 4 ornamental grasses I ran across actually has a familiar name: miscanthus. What’s new about this one is the fact that it is hardy. Miscanthus sinensis ‘Little Miss’ grows 2-3 feet tall. I haven’t tried growing it yet, but sellers describe it as a plant with “narrow arching foliage” that emerges green in spring and then develops “carmine and purple tones” from early May with strongest coloring in October and November. Clumping centers remain fresh green for a two-tone effect. The flower heads are striking as well, reddish in color from July to October for a long season of interest.

Miscanthus 'Litttle Miss'

Photo courtesy of PlantHaven International, Inc.

“Little Miss’ is also considered easy to care for and drought tolerant. It’s suitable for a large container or can be grown in a landscape up near a home or iin an island bed. Sounds like a lot of bang for the buck, plus it’s hardy to the area! Pinch me, I must be dreaming.  

As of this writing there are 4 nurseries licensed to propagate ‘Little Miss:’

Briggs Nursery

Emerald Coast Growers

EuroAmerican Propagators

JRT Nurseries
Another ornamental grass that should make its way to northern gardens is a variation of a native little bluestem, Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Standing Ovation,’ offered by North Creek Nurseries. Besides being hardy down to -30, it will do well in  poor, dry soils, perhaps in those areas close to the lake shore where native beach grasses tend to thrive. ‘Standing Ovation’ has spiky bluish-green stems that look attractive all summer.

photo of little blue stem

Photo courtesy of North Creek Nurseries

‘Standing Ovation will also add autumn interest when it transitions to a eye popping display of oranges, reds, yellows, and purplish-browns. The seed heads swaying in the wind will provide winter interest before being cut back in spring. Don’t let the name fool you, this little stem variety grows 3-4 foot tall on sturdy stems. The seasonal color changes is nothing short of spectacular, which will add a richness to your landscape and flower bed.

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