With its fine flower panicles, the maiden silvergrass is one of the most striking plants in the herbaceous border. This is how to plant and care for the ornamental grass properly.
Profile of maiden silvergrass:
Scientific name: Miscanthus sinensis
Plant family: grass family (Poaceae)
Other names: Korean uksae, Chinese silver grass, Eulalia grass, maiden grass, zebra grass, Susuki grass, porcupine grass.
Planting time: April
Flowering period: August to October
Location: sunny to partially shaded
Soil quality: sandy to loamy, nutrient rich, humus rich
These information are for temperate climate!
Use in: flower beds, single position, group planting, privacy screen, borders, flower garden, inner courtyard, Japanese garden, natural garden, prairie garden, potted garden
Winter hardiness: hardy, USDA Plant Hardiness Zones: 6
Bee and insect friendly: No
Plant characteristics and classification of maiden silvergrass
Plant order, origin and occurrence of maiden silvergrass
The maiden silvergrass (Miscanthus sinensis) originally comes from Japan, China and Korea and grows there on slopes and on mountains. Like all Miscanthus species, it belongs to the grass family (Poaceae). The species itself is rarely planted in gardens, rather it is the numerous varieties such as the ‘Gracillimus’ that are very popular.
Cultivation has resulted in numerous new varieties in the past decades. The perennial gardener Ernst Pagels, who comes from Leer in East Friesland, was responsible for this. He cultivated well-known varieties in his nursery such as ‘Gracillimus’ and ‘Silberfeder’ (silver feather). A particularly large number of varieties descend from the species Miscanthus sinensis, which is commonly referred to as maiden silvergrass.
Characteristics of maiden silvergrass
With their fine panicles and tall, upright growth, the species of the maiden silvergrass are among the most striking plants in the herbaceous border. The tallest – as the name suggests – is giant miscanthus (Miscanthus x giganteus), the lowest is the dwarf Chinese silver grass ‘Nanus Variegatus’ (Miscanthus oligostachyus) with a height of between 40 and 60 centimeters (16 to 24 in).
The leaves of the maiden silvergrass are narrow, mostly dark green and often show a wonderful autumn color. But there are also varieties with multi-colored, variegated foliage, for example the little zebra silvergrass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Little Zebra’) or the maiden silvergrass ‘Strictus’ (Miscanthus sinensis).
From August to October, most species and varieties of the maiden silvergrass form fine panicles of flowers, which depending on the variety sometimes grow upright, sometimes overhang or arch. The color varies from silvery white to silvery pink to red.
Maiden silvergrass – cultivation and care
Location and Soil
The ornamental grass thrives in all sunny borders and is very tolerant regarding the soil. Although it prefers soils with a good water supply, it also copes with poor drainage and even with occasional drought. The species of the maiden silvergrass are also impressive figures in the winter herbaceous border and are not impressed by rain, heavy frost and snow. For example, the maiden silvergrass ‘Silberfeder’ (Miscanthus sinensis) simply stands up again as soon as the snow load has been removed.
Ever since the maiden silvergrass came to gardens in the 1950s, it has come to terms with the local climatic conditions as a variety of ornamental grass. Since the plant is also used for agriculture, there is a wealth of experience available from which the hobby gardener can create the best site conditions:
- Bright to sunny location
- Half-shade to light shade is tolerated
- More humid, moist and well drained soil
- Crumbly structure with good air / water ratio
- Even little ventilated soil is accepted by maiden silvergrass
- Sandy soil and waterlogging reduce the growing power
- Smaller-sized varieties are suitable for containers
Since the giant Chinese silver grass, also known as elephant grass, is becoming increasingly important as a renewable resource, universities and scientists are working on the right planting method and presenting findings of which the hobby gardener also benefit.
- Best planting time is in spring, especially April
- maiden silvergrass needs a neutral pH of 5 to 8
- Loosen the soil about 20 cm to 25 cm deep (8 to 10 in)
- Thoroughly remove any weeds
- Improve sandy soil with mature compost and clay flour
- Use sand, gravel and compost to loosen up loamy and clay soil
- If necessary, sow green manure in the year before planting
- Dig in rhizomes for planting approx. 8 cm (3 in) deep from 10 °C / 50 °F
- Only place young cultivated plants in the prepared soil from mid-May, after no more frosts are expected
- The planting hole is twice the size of the root ball
- Press on the soil well and make sure to water plenty
- Planting distance depends on the variety
Since the maiden silvergrass should contribute to the beautification of the home garden for many years, experts advise not to be stingy when buying the seedlings. If you decide to plant a rhizome, you should pay attention to the age of the mother plant and ask carefully. The older the mother plant, the higher the proportion of dead rhizomes, which is not immediately visible even to experts.
Even the professional botanists do not yet agree whether the Miscanthus plants brought forward by micropropagation provide better quality. It is clear that the price alone should not influence the purchase decision. The most important criterion for a vigorous growth is the multi-stalking of the planting material.
Watering and Fertilization
The chosen location determines the frequency of watering and the requirements for fertilization.
- Water abundantly and regularly
- Water particularly generously in the 1st year of planting
- The amount of rain is sufficient for adult maiden silvergrass
- Water thoroughly only in long dry periods
- Mulching keeps the ground warm and moist
- There is no fertilization in the planting year
- Add fertilizer in spring in poor soil
- Alternatively, add good garden compost
- Pour diluted liquid fertilizer in the bucket every 4 weeks
- Otherwise, maiden silvergrass does not need any additional fertilizer
There is also no fertilization in the planting year because the maiden silvergrass is still weak during this period and weeds would only become more assertive by additional nutrients. Therefore, regular weeding, especially in the first year of standing, is essential for a successful cultivation of Miscanthus.
As the handling of maiden silvergrass already suggests during wintering, the pruning will not take place until the following spring. The new shoot should not be visible yet. Before starting the prune, the cluster is carefully examined for any winter guests. Due to the dense growth habit, many beneficial species choose the maiden silvergrass for their winter quarters, such as ladybirds, lacewings, hedgehogs or mice. The environmentally conscious and animal-loving hobby gardener lets his animal guests finish their hibernation before starting work.
With a sharp knife or secateurs, the elephant grass or any other variety is cut up to hand width above the ground. It is helpful to tie the ornamental grass together in handy tufts, because they are easy to cut and dispose of in this form. It is essential to wear gloves and safety glasses when cutting the rather sharp-edged and pointed leaves. If the young leaves are already sprouted due to a mild winter, the maiden silvergrass are only cut back to that height and the dried stalks on the edge are removed.
A cut into the fresh maiden silvergrass causes unsightly brown tips, which would significantly impair the spectacular appearance. Incidentally, the clippings are much too good to simply be disposed of on the compost. With the help of a chopper, it can be wonderfully transformed into natural bedding for animal cages and horse stables.
Once you have planted maiden silvergrass in the garden, you will no longer have to spend money on other specimens, because the propagation is very easy. One can choose between two practices that also have positive side effects.
The fast-growing species of Miscanthus form lush cluster within a short time, which are ideal for multiplication by division in spring.
- Loosen the cluster all around with the digging fork
- Complete, tedious excavation is not absolutely necessary
- Cut off sections with a spade or sharp knife
- A suitable section has at least 3 to 4 shoots
- Plant immediately in a suitable new place in the garden
- Dig in the remaining mother plant and water
The elephant grass owes its reputation as an invasive plant to its rapidly spreading rhizomes, which grow not only up to 250 cm (8 ft) deep, but also widely horizontally. These root pieces also serve for uncomplicated vegetative propagation.
- Dig out the rhizomes and separate them from the mother plant with a spade.
- Use a sharp knife to cut each rhizome into pieces
- Each stem axis must have at least two buds
- Plant between 5 cm and 8 cm (2 to 3 in) deep in the prepared soil at the new location
- Alternatively, pull each piece of rhizome in a sufficiently large pot
- Place the pot in a bright, warm place
- Always keep the substrate slightly damp without waterlogging
- If the growing pot is completely rooted, the young maiden silvergrass is planted out
Diseases and pests
Maiden silvergrass is a very robust plant. Diseases and pests are generally not noticeable.
All types and varieties of the maiden silvergrass are hardy; nevertheless, the experienced hobby gardener provides his grass with a slight protection against snow and ice. In the native regions of East Asia, the winters are just as frosty as in Central Europe and North America, although rarely as humid. If the miscanthus still needs plenty of water in the dry season, the moisture in winter cannot evaporate so quickly, so mold could develop.
- Tie the grass loosely together with sisal cord in October / November
- The heart of the cluster is thus protected from winter moisture
- It makes sense to pile up leaves, brushwood and straw
- Place planted buckets on a wooden block to protect it from the cold
- Wrap the planter with foil or garden fleece
- At best, place the bucket under a canopy
- A cool, frost-free winter quarters is of course also welcome
- Give a small dose of water on frost-free winter days
- Do not fertilize in winter
Use in the garden
With its picturesque growth, maiden silvergrass is best suited for a single position in the perennial border. Smaller species such as the dwarf maiden silvergrass ‘Adagio’ (Miscanthus sinensis) or the small maiden silvergrass ‘Zebrinus’ can also be planted in small groups or tubs. Since the maiden silvergrass blooms very late, it can be combined well with late-flowering perennials such as asters, hemp agrimony (Eupatorium), Sedum or Japanese anemone (Anemone japonica and Anemone hupehensis). In the course of summer, the ornamental grass brings fresh green to the bed.
Although actually an ornamental grass, particularly vigorous varieties of the maiden silvergrass are now also grown extensively as suppliers of biomass and fibers for industry.
Popular varieties and planting partners
The multi-faceted variety and variety of the maiden silvergrass offers design possibilities in abundance. Below are some of the most popular variants including harmonious planting partners:
Miscanthus sinensis ‘Adagio’ – dwarf maiden silvergrass
With its silvery-white spikes and its maximum height of 150 cm (5 ft), the following plants are in harmony:
- crimson beebalm
Miscanthus sinensis ‘Beth Chatto’ – half-height maiden silvergrass
This narrow-leaved variety with the light brown flowers is of graceful beauty. The following are suitable:
- New York aster
- Japanese aster
Miscanthus sinensis ‘Far East’ – maiden silvergrass
This valuable, up to 160 cm (5 ft 4 in) high rarity, whose deep red fronds are seated with white tips, corresponds wonderfully with:
- mountain fleece
- Hubricht’s bluestar
Miscanthus sinensis ‘Ghana’ – maiden silvergrass
A variety for insiders with a stature height of up to 170 cm (5 ft 8 in), enriches the garden in autumn with a sensational beacon of colors. Chinese connoisseurs plant the appropriate plant:
- horned spurge
- mountain fleece
Miscanthus sinensis ‘Giraffe’ – Zebra maiden silvergrass
This up to 250 cm (8 ft 4 in) high maiden silvergrass shows with yellow, horizontal stripes on the leaves. Finding the right planting partner for this eye-catcher is no easy task. How about:
- New York aster
- Giant sunflower
Miscanthus sinensis ‘Silver Tower’ – maiden silvergrass
This giant among the Miscanthus varieties needs a lot of space around itself and would like to be kept in a solitary position. The following planting partners accept its dominance and nestle peacefully:
- Greenland dog daisy (Arctanthemum arcticum)
- Culver’s root
Incidentally, all the varieties of maiden silvergrass presented are ideally suited to provide decorative planting and good support on slopes prone to erosion.