I have a shady backyard (mostly maple trees). Are there any ornamental grasses that will grow there?
There is quite a variety of ornamental grasses that will grow in the shade. Not as bold, big, tall and dramatic as the sun-loving ones, but certainly equally beautiful. They are easy-to-grow plants that fit nicely into the more serene and subtle nature of a shade garden. Some are tolerant of drought conditions, which you might have under your maple trees. For most it would be good to supply at least an inch of water per week. Here are some ornamental grasses that do well in the shady garden:
Hakone grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’). This attractive grass is one of the best for shade. It has striking gold variegated leaves with an attractive habit of falling over to one side. This plant makes a lovely companion to hostas.
Palm sedge (Carex muskingumensis). This sedge spreads to create a low maintenance groundcover for moist, shady locations. The light green leaves resemble palm fronds at the top, which gives it its common name. Grows about 2 feet tall.
Bowles’ golden sedge (Carex elata ‘Aurea’ or ‘Bowles’ Golden’). Has attractive lime-green leaves in early spring and makes a lovely companion to gold variegated hostas. Grows 2 feet tall and prefers moist shade.
Silver variegated Japanese sedge (Carex morrowii ‘Variegata’). Has white leaf margins and grows 12 to 18 inches tall. It likes morning sun or part shade.
Variegated sedge (Carex morrowii ‘Ice Dance’). This semi-evergreen sedge has green foliage edged in pure white. One of the newer grasses for shade, it spreads to create a low-maintenance groundcover in the shade garden.
Plantain-leaved sedge (Carex plantaginea). Grows 6 to 12 inches tall and has green leaf blades that are wider than most sedges. Among the grasses for shade, this is one of the best for tolerating dry conditions. It makes a nice companion to ferns and North American woodland natives.
Northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium). Grows about 3 feet tall. It has dark-green, bamboo-like foliage and attractive dangling flowers in mid-summer. This grass can take quite a bit of sun and sometimes can self-seed excessively, so remove flowers in late fall. (The flowers can be used in fall cut-flower arrangements.)
Snowy woodrush (Luzula nivea). A clump-former, it grows about 18 inches tall and is evergreen, with light green leaves and clustered white flowers in May to June.
Greater woodrush (Luzula sylvatica). This evergreen, clump-forming ornamental grass has green foliage covered with silky hairs. It grows about 2 feet tall and flowers in late spring into early summer. It prefers moisture and light to medium shade, but is quite drought tolerant. It is tolerant of most soils. Makes a good companion to ferns, shade-loving wildflowers and shrubs.