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Popular miscanthus (Miscanthus sinensis cultivars) is the grand dame of warm season grasses — so much so that I find folks are more likely to know it by its botanical name than its common name ("maiden grass"). You'll find many varieties of miscanthus on the market, but most are 4 to 6 feet tall, have a vase shape and bloom anytime from midsummer to fall. My favorite is the standby 'Morning Light' (zones 5 to 9), a vision in very slender, flocked blades. This one blooms late or not at all, making it more a foliage plant, but that's good in that Miscanthus sinensis, the parent species of all these grasses, has come under fire as a weedy, seedy invasive species in recent years. Experts question the cultivars' ability to seed, but the bottom line is: If it doesn't bloom, it won't set seed. Miscanthus likes full sun.
A warm-season grass that's exploded in popularity recently is switch grass (Panicum virgatum, zones 5 to 9). The species is pictured here along with its cultivar 'Dallas Blues'. Switch grass is native to almost all of North America, save for the West Coast. Its grace as a foliage plant is exceeded only by its pretty pink flowers, and this grass thrives in heat and drought. Most cultivars come in either blue, such as 'Dallas Blues' or popular 'Heavy Metal', or red, as in 'Prairie Fire' and 'Shenandoah'. 'Northwind' is another blue cultivar of great use to designers because of its striking upright stance. All prefer sun.
If you need a fabulous grass for shade, look no further than Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra, zones 5 to 9). Another recently popular group, these little grasses excel in shade, even moderately dry shade. Forest grasses tend to be a bit chartreuse, and my favorite is 'All Gold' (shown here), which positively glows. These little guys max out at about 1½ feet tall and wide, and their naturally cascading habit makes them gorgeous for raised beds and walls. They take their time getting settled in, but once they do, they'll more than return your investment of time.