Ravenna Grass Information: Guide To Growing Ravenna Grass

Ravenna Grass Information: Guide To Growing Ravenna Grass

By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist

Erianthus ravennae is now known as Saccharum ravennae, although both names can commonly be found in literature. It is also called elephant grass, hardy pampas grass, or (more commonly) ravenna grass. No matter the name, this is a large, perennial grass native to the Mediterranean but commonly used as an ornamental plant. It is an outstanding specimen but does have the potential to naturalize and become a nuisance in some regions. Read on to learn how to care for ravenna grass in landscapes and avoid any invasive potential while enjoying its magnificent structure and plumes.

What is Ravenna Grass?

If you want hardy elegance, combined with towering magnificence, try ravenna grass. It is a massive specimen grass that makes a perfect screen or simply a focal point in the landscape. Is ravenna grass invasive? Be aware that it is a Class A noxious weed in Washington and some other states. It is best to check with your local extension before growing ravenna grass.

Ravenna grass has year-round appeal. It is a large ornamental that may achieve 8 to 12 feet in height (2.5 to 3.5 m.) with a spread of 5 feet (1.5 m.). Ravenna grass information informs us that it is deer resistant, drought, and frost tolerant, hence the designation “hardy pampas grass.” In fact, it is often used as a substitute for pampas grass in northern gardens.

One of the more identifying characteristics is its leaf blades. These are 3 to 4 feet long (1 m.) and are blue-green with hairy bases, bearing a distinctive white mid-vein. Ravenna grass in landscapes forms a dense clump with stems that are slightly weaker than traditional pampas grass. The plant produces tall, silver-white, feathery plumes in late summer which are long-lasting and attractive in floral arrangements.

Growing Ravenna Grass

Ravenna grass is a warm-season grass. It is appropriate in USDA zones 6-9 in sunny, fertile, moist, but well-drained soil. In areas with boggy soil, stems become brittle and hollow and more prone to breakage. Such conditions also contribute to winter injury. In clay soils, amend the area with plenty of compost or other organic matter.

Situate the plant with some protection from wind to prevent damage to foliage and stems. In the landscape, ravenna grass makes a lovely mass planting, can be used as erosion control, makes a soothing barrier plant, or may be part of a cutting garden. It has few pest or disease issues but is prone to some fungal diseases.

Care for Ravenna Grass

This hardy grass is a very tolerant and stoic plant. It can withstand almost anything the average landscape can throw at it, but it does not thrive in overly wet soils, although it does need consistent water. A drip system is ideal for irrigation, where overhead watering can create fungal issues.

The plumes persist well into winter, adding dimension and interest. Some gardeners believe pruning is part of good care for ravenna grass. This is not necessarily true but can make for a tidier plant and allow new spring foliage room to grow. If you choose to prune the plant, do so in early spring, cutting the entire stems and foliage back to 6 inches (15 cm.) from the crown. In areas prone to reseeding, such as the Pacific Northwest, remove the plumes before they are ripe to prevent the seed from spreading.

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Other Names: Ravenna Grass Plume Grass

A giant of the ornamental grass world and hardy for northern areas spikes of silvery flower plumes with a hint of purple reach skyward in late summer spectacular fall display of orange, tan, purple, and the dried stalks add lovely winter interest

Pampas Grass features airy plumes of silver hop-like flowers with a purple flare at the ends of the stems in late summer. The flowers are excellent for cutting. Its attractive grassy leaves are grayish green in color. As an added bonus, the foliage turns a gorgeous harvest gold in the fall. The fruit is not ornamentally significant.

Pampas Grass is a dense herbaceous perennial grass with an upright spreading habit of growth. Its relatively fine texture sets it apart from other garden plants with less refined foliage.

This is a relatively low maintenance plant, and is best cleaned up in early spring before it resumes active growth for the season. It is a good choice for attracting birds to your yard, but is not particularly attractive to deer who tend to leave it alone in favor of tastier treats. It has no significant negative characteristics.

Pampas Grass is recommended for the following landscape applications

  • Accent
  • Mass Planting
  • Hedges/Screening
  • General Garden Use

Pampas Grass will grow to be about 5 feet tall at maturity extending to 12 feet tall with the flowers, with a spread of 8 feet. It grows at a fast rate, and under ideal conditions can be expected to live for approximately 10 years.

This plant should only be grown in full sunlight. It is very adaptable to both dry and moist growing conditions, but will not tolerate any standing water. It is not particular as to soil pH, but grows best in sandy soils. It is highly tolerant of urban pollution and will even thrive in inner city environments. This species is native to parts of North America. It can be propagated by division.

Winter Aesthetics

Most ornamental grass plants grow in mounds or provide a fountain effect. In the fall, the plants retain their fluffy, wide or thin textures and the foliage turns tan, bronze or reddish brown after the first frost. Cutting the foliage back will remove the vertical backdrop grasses provide in the winter garden. Snow gathering on tall sea oats lends an interesting dimension to the garden.

  • Ornamental grasses--such as miscanthus, pampas, sedges, fountain grass and oat grass--have become very popular and can be found in many private and commercial gardens.
  • In the fall, the plants retain their fluffy, wide or thin textures and the foliage turns tan, bronze or reddish brown after the first frost.

Share All sharing options for: Grasses With Attitude

If you want to go beyond a uniform green lawn and add some pizzazz to your yard, check out ornamental grasses, the eye-catching, more natural-looking cousins of turf grass. Ornamental grasses come in shades of blue, red and green, and they range in height from less than 12 inches to more than 10 feet. They're nearly insect- and disease-free, and they tolerate a wide range of soil and temperature conditions. To top it off, they need little care to look great — no weekly mowing here.

In addition, ornamental grasses do more than just lie there waiting for a croquet game to start. Use them to fill in a flower bed or screen an ugly view. You can even make them the focal point of your yard. This versatility is a key reason that ornamental grasses are booming in popularity.

Making Choices

Selecting an ornamental grass for your yard might be the toughest part of the whole process. The plants that we show here represent only a small number of the grasses and grasslike plants readily available throughout the country. Talk with your local extension service and nursery staff for guidance. Another good resource is The Color Encyclopedia of Ornamental Grasses, an up-to-date, authoritative reference by Rick Darke.

Like any plant, the ornamental grasses you select must be suited to your climate and growing conditions. Familiarize yourself with the growth cycle of the plants so that you can coordinate them with neighboring plants.

Most ornamental grasses are warm-season types, which flourish in summer heat, flower in summer and fall, and begin to go dormant with winter. Many offer outstanding fall color in the North, and their winter hues of chestnut, tan and russet remain handsome throughout the cold months.

Cool-season types grow in the cool, moist weather of spring (or winter in mild-winter climates). They flower from late winter to early summer, and then grow very slowly, if at all, in summer. Their growth resumes once fall arrives. These grasses offer early-spring appeal and, in mild climates, their foliage is evergreen over the winter season. Blue oat grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens) and feather reed grass (Calamagrostis acutiflora stricta) are examples of very useful cool-season grasses.

Ornamental grasses make a bold statement in your yard and are very easy to grow. They come in a wide variety of sizes, colors and textures.

Ornamental grasses make a bold statement in your yard and are very easy to grow. They come in a wide variety of sizes, colors and textures.

Color, Shape, and Size

Choose a grass the right size and shape for your landscape. Some ornamental grasses get extremely tall. For example, towering ravenna grass (Saccharum ravennae), with 14-foot-high flower spikes, makes a striking accent. But not if it's planted at the front of a flower bed. Better choices for this situation are low-growing grasses, such as blue fescue (Festuca glauca) for sunny borders or hakone grass (Hakonechloa macra) for shady spots.

Grasses with variegated leaves (colored patches, stripes or spots) lend a unique pattern and texture to the landscape. In recent years, 'Morning Light' miscanthus (Miscanthus sinensis 'Morning Light'), with fine, white-edged leaves, has taken the spotlight. Zebra grass (Miscanthus sinensis 'Zebrinus'), with horizontal yellow bands across its green leaves, remains a tried-and-true choice.

For vibrant color, you can't beat Japanese blood grass (Imperata cylindrica 'Red Baron'). Its leaves emerge green with dark-red tips in spring. By early summer they're bright red, and in fall they intensify to a deep burgundy.

Avoid Invasion

Most grasses don't spread rampantly once planted. But the ones that spread rapidly by runners, like Silver banner grass (Miscanthus sacchariflorus) and ribbon grass (Phalaris arundinacea 'Picta'), can be very difficult to confine once established. These grasses are useful for covering a large area or preventing soil erosion, but use them with caution.

Grasses that self-seed prolifically are potentially invasive as well. And a grass that's not invasive in one climate can get out of hand in another. If in doubt, consult your local extension service or chapter of the Nature Conservancy.

Shopping Tips

With the recent surge in popularity of ornamental grasses, nurseries and garden centers nationwide are offering an ever-expanding selection. A nursery that has a display garden lets you see how plants mature and change through the seasons. This is especially important with grasses because their often bedraggled appearance in nursery containers doesn't reflect their striking beauty once planted.

Grasses are typically sold in 1-, 2- and 5-gallon containers. Though you might consider a single plant expensive — $9 to $15 for one in a 2-gallon container — perennial grasses are a good value. They live for years, sometimes decades they also fill out quickly, reaching maturity in one or two years.

If you can't find certain grasses locally, check the catalogs listed in our Where to Find It guide. Mail-order companies offer the widest selection plants usually come bare-root.

To add to your shopping challenge, grasses are known by a variety of botanical and common names. Darke's book can help with alternate names that you might encounter in catalogs and at the nursery.

Japanese blood grass shows hints of the vibrant-red color that takes over established plants in summer.

Japanese blood grass shows hints of the vibrant-red color that takes over established plants in summer.

Planting and Care

If you live in a mild climate, plant grasses in the spring or fall. If you live in a cold climate — where temperatures drop to -20°F or lower — plant in spring. Here are some planting guidelines:

  • Remove sod and weed grasses, such as quack grass and Bermuda grass, from the planting area. If these grasses mingle with your ornamental grasses you'll face an ongoing battle to fend them off.
  • Set plants in the ground the same distance apart as their height at maturity. So, if a grass grows to 5 feet tall, plant it 5 feet from its neighbor, measuring from the center of one plant to the center of the next.
  • If you've chosen grasses adapted to your soil conditions you'll seldom need to add fertilizer or other amendments. In fact, too much fertilizer encourages weak and rampant growth and causes plants to flop over.
  • Plant each grass at the same depth or slightly higher than it grew in the container. If planted too deep, water gets trapped around the plant crown, causing it to rot.
  • After planting, water thoroughly. Then, apply organic mulch, such as shredded bark or shredded leaves, over the soil surface between plants, keeping it away from the crown of the plant. Continue to
  • water regularly through the first growing season.

Ongoing Care

Once established, most grasses need little attention, other than a trim in late winter or early spring. Cut grasses back to within 4 to 6 inches of the ground with pruning shears, electric hedge shears, or a power trimmer with a metal blade. The stubble left after trimming helps protect the crown and emerging new growth from inclement weather.

As plants age, they might die out in the center. When this happens, divide the grasses. In early spring, dig up the entire plant and slice it into smaller pieces using either a sharp knife or a spade. Then replant the healthy pieces. Dividing large clumping grasses is a big job demanding a lot more muscle power and an ax or hacksaw for cutting the plants into smaller sections. Before digging and dividing tall grasses, cut back the foliage by about a third. Be sure to wear gloves and safety glasses to protect yourself from sharp grass blades.

Once you've completed these spring chores, it's time to enjoy the delightful sounds and swaying movements of the grasses as the wind passes through them, their feathery flowers and colorful seed heads as the seasons progress. No turf grass can offer all this.

Taiwanese miscanthus, with graceful stems and feathery flower plumes, makes a nice contrast to clumps of blue oat grass with blue-green leaves.

Taiwanese miscanthus, with graceful stems and feathery flower plumes, makes a nice contrast to clumps of blue oat grass with blue-green leaves.

Grasses for Any Situation


These grasses turn attractive colors in autumn, providing an additional season of interest (the fall leaf color follows the botanical name):

Broom-sedge (Andropogon virginicus, orange),

Japanese Blood Grass (Imperata cylindrica 'Red Baron,' wine-red),

Flame Grass (Miscanthus 'Purpurascens,' orange-red),

Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum, golden-yellow),

Red Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum 'Hanse Herms,' burgundy),

Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans, yellow-orange),

Variegated prairie cord grass (Spartina pectinata 'Aureomarginata,' yellow),

Japanese Themeda (Themeda japonica, red-orange)


These grasses will grow in wet or poorly drained soils:

Sweet flag (Acorus calamus),

Japanese Sweet Flag (Acorus gramineus),

Feather Reed Grass (Calamagrostis acutiflora),

Rushes (Juncus, all species),

Reed canary grass (Phalaris arundinacea),

'Woods Dwarf' dwarf ribbon grass (Phalaris arundinacea 'Woods Dwarf'),

Feesey's Form Ribbon Grass (Phalaris anundinacea 'Feesey's Form'),

Variegated prairie cord grass (Spartina pectinata 'Aureomarginata')


These grasses provide good height, dense foliage and fast growth, making them excellent choices for screens:

Karl Foerster's Feather Reed Grass (Calamagrostis acutiflora 'Karl Foerster'),

Compact pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana 'Pumila'),

Ravenna Grass (Saccharum ravannae),

'Cabaret' Miscanthus (Miscanthus sinensis condensatus 'Cabaret'),

'Morning Light' Miscanthus (Miscanthus sinensis 'Morning Light'),

Silver Feather Maiden Grass (Miscanthus sinensis 'Silberfeder')


Once established, these grasses tolerate heat and drought:

Broom-sedge (Andropogon virginicus),

Side-oats Grama (Bouteloua curtipendula),

Blue Grama (Bouteloua gracilis),

Atlas Fescue (Festuca mairei),

June Grass (Koeleria macrantha),

Blue Hair Grass (Koeleria glauca),

Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum),

Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans),

Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis)


While most grasses prefer full sun, these either tolerate or prefer light shade:

Golden Meadow Foxtail (Alopecurus pratensis 'Variegatus'),

Sedges (most Carex species),

Tufted Hair Grass (Deschampsia caespitosa),

Hakone Grass (Hakonechloa macra),

Bottle-brush Grass (Hystrix patula),

Variegated Moor Grass (Molina caerulea 'Variegata'),

Reed Canary Grass (Phalaris arundinacea),

Autumn Moor Grass (Sesleria autumnalis)

Low-growing golden-variegated hakone grass shares space with purple-flowering campanula in this shaded garden.

Low-growing golden-variegated hakone grass shares space with purple-flowering campanula in this shaded garden.

Reference books on ornamental grasses :

The Color Encyclopedia of Ornamental Grasses

by M. Hockenberry Meyer, D.B. White and H. Pellett

Minnesota Extension Service

Step-by-Step Ornamental Grasses

Better Homes and Gardens Books

Taylor's Guide to Ornamental Grasses

Mail-order sources for ornamental grasses:

Kurt Bluemel, Inc.

Bluestone Perennials

Carol Gardens, Inc

Greenlee Nursery

Limerock Ornamental Grasses

Prairie Ridge Nursery

Andre Viette Farm & Nursery

Ravenna Grass Spacing

Ensure that this grass has room to grow. It is not only tall vertically, but it can reach 6 feet in diameter. The dense clumps of grass make for a phenomenal green wall. Space plants 72 to 96 inches apart in the landscape and enjoy!

Click here for more information on plant container sizes.

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Watch the video: Pruning Ornamental Grasses