Ornamental Grasses that Grow Great in Winter

Did you know? The Chicagoland area falls within the USDA’s Plant Hardiness Zone 5, which is one of the cooler parts of the United States. Though some plants certainly struggle to thrive outdoors, particularly in the late fall, winter, and early spring, others will thrive year-round – including ornamental grasses. Below, you can find some of the best and most beautiful wintertime ornamental grasses for your landscape.

Preparing for Ornamental Grasses in Your Landscape

Before you plant ornamental grass in hopes it will thrive in Chicago’s cold winters, it’s important to understand these plants’ typical requirements. 1. They prefer to be rooted in soil that drains very well and is low in nutrients. 2. You’ll want to look for cool weather grasses that can withstand subfreezing temperatures, layers of ice and snow. (If you need some help choosing a grass to start with, you can always find native options in your local nurseries and home stores.)

Non-Native Ornamental Grasses that will Thrive in Zone 5

If you don’t like the look of native species, or are ready for the “next adventure” in ornamental grasses, there are plenty of non-native ornamental grasses that will absolutely thrive in Zone 5. These include:

  • Japanese Silver Grass – This is an Asian transplant that offers gorgeous, clumping, silver plumes. You can find several varieties, including some that have pink and/or reddish flowers in the warmer parts of the year.
  • Purple Fountain Grass – Fountain grasses form beautiful “balls” or “mounds” when trimmed appropriately, which makes them truly unique, ornamental pieces for your landscape. Purple fountain grass shows reddish hues in its leaves and flowers, and grows to about four feet tall.
  • Ravenna Grass – Though most of the Pampas grasses won’t survive long in the harsh Chicago winters, Ravenna grass is an unusual variant. This grass can survive (and even thrive) all the way up to Zone 4. This is a huge grass; in its foliage phase, it can reach five feet. And when the flower stalks start to grow, it can grow as high as 12 feet. This is phenomenal for corners, as it fills in the space, and can be used to provide privacy.
  • Miscanthus Maiden Grass – Finally, there are several miscanthus varieties. These are well-suited for year-round beauty in the Chicagoland area. They range in color, from bronze to deep burgundy, and can grow as large as 10 feet tall by six feet wide. This is an excellent choice for containers, or hard clay soils, where other grasses may not grow well.

As you can see, despite Chicago’s freezing temperatures during winter months, there are several beautiful ornamental grasses that will thrive in winter’s frost. Japanese silver, purple fountain, Ravenna, and miscanthus maiden grasses are all phenomenal choices. For assistance with planting these beautiful grasses, guidance in landscape design, or even year-round care and maintenance, contact a landscaping professional.