Many gardens in the areas we serve have two factors that can make gardening difficult….deer and shade. If you love the look of ornamental grasses but thought they couldn’t possibly survive in your shady, deer-troubled garden, think again. There are actually a number of beautiful ornamental grasses and sedges that not only tolerate shade, but seem to be resistant to deer. They would make an unexpected yet wonderful addition, with their fine texture playing off other plants that typically inhabit a shade garden, like hosta and fern.

These are our favorites: 

Bowles Golden Sedge.

Carex elata ‘Bowles Golden’, Bowles Golden Sedge, is a beautiful sedge with vivid yellow foliage that seems to glow in partial shade. This plant grows in a tight, densely tufted mound and is somewhat upright in habit, and would thrive in a water or woodland garden or moist location. 12-18” h. 

At left: Evergold. At right: Ice Dance.

Carex hachioensis ‘Evergold’,  Evergold Sedge, has thin, creamy leaves edged with green margins. More fountain-like and delicate looking than ‘Ice Dance’, it creates a striking, whorly mound that, when massed, lights up dark corners of the shade garden. 8-12” h

Carex morrowii ‘Ice Dance’, Ice Dance Sedge, is a small, somewhat upright sedge with deep green leaves edges with distinct white margins. The foliage lasts well into winter. 8-12″ h.

Colorful, quaking seed heads of Northern Sea Oats.

Chasmanthium latifolium, Northern Sea Oats Grass, is a tall, bamboo-like ornamental grass with graceful arching stems with bluish green foliage and tolerates full sun to partial shade. Its flattened, saw-toothed flowers change in color from green in summer, to copper in fall and then tan in winter. Oat-like seedheads are great in dried arrangements. 36-48”h. 

Aureola Hakone Grass was the 2009 Perennial Plant of the Year.

Hakonechloa macra, Japanese Forest Grass, is bamboo-like and noted for its movement in breezes, offering a cascading or an undulating behavior much like flowing water. The variety ‘Aureola’, with its yellow blades striped with green lines, is wonderful in shady areas or evening gardens, and complements dark leaved plants. Prefers moist, humus-rich soil. 12-18”h.


Tall, airy panicles of Tufted Hair Grass are especially beautiful when backlit.

Deschampsia caespitosa, Tufted Hair Grass, is a clump-forming, cool season grass that sends out wide, airy panicles of subtly tinted, tiny flowers high above the plant, appearing cloud-like. It thrives in a moderately shady, moist location with organically rich soil. 24-36” h.

Striking, unusual seedheads of Bottlebrush Grass.

Hystrix patula, Bottlebrush Grass, is a medium sized, upright ornamental grass that is very shade-tolerant and native to the US. Leaf blades are a pretty blue-gray, but what’s striking about this grass are the beautiful, bottlebrush-like flower spikes it sends out in summer. Very deer- and rabbit-resistant. 36-48”h.  

Grass or flower? Snowy Woodrush could be both!

Luzula nivea ‘Lucius’, Snowy Woodrush, looks like an ornamental grass, with its thin, deep green blades, but it is actually a member of the Rush family. This plant is surprising in that it looks like an ornamental grass, yet it bears small clusters of fluffy white flowers in early spring and summer. If you have a moist, shady location you’d like to brighten, give this plant a try. 24”h.

Prairie Dropseed can tolerate a wide range of soils, but generally prefers dry and rocky.

Sporobolus heterolepsis, Prairie Dropseed Grass, is a clump forming, warm season native grass has with airy, scented spikes that hover over finely textured. hair-like medium green foliage. Its fragrance is likened to buttered popcorn, hot wax, and some say it has hints of coriander. Foliage turns a beautiful, golden with orange hues in fall, fading to light bronze in winter. A tough grass that tolerates a wide range of soils, including heavy clays, but it prefers dry, rocky soils. Can thrive in light shade. 18-24″h.