Miscanthus, also known as maiden grass, morning grass, eulalia, fairy grass, Japanese silvergrass or Chinese silvergrass, are clump-forming ornamental grasses that are well worth growing. They have some of the best flowers of all the ornamental grasses, producing large, feathery plumes in late summer, in shades of silver, buff or pale purple-pink, depending on the variety. Their fine, arching foliage is attractive too – some varieties start out fresh green before turning orange or bronze in autumn, while others have variegated leaves. Although miscanthus are deciduous, their faded foliage and flower heads remain on the plant over the winter months, giving structure and interest at a time when the garden is bare.
Native to Asia, parts of the Pacific and east Africa, miscanthus are becoming increasingly popular in the UK, with many new varieties from Europe and the US now available. The most widely available are the Miscanthus sinensis cultivars, which hail from China, Japan, Taiwan and Korea. There's now a miscanthus for every garden, from compact varieties that reach no more than 80cm tall, to larger varieties that can reach 2.5m, in a variety of forms and colours.
Swaying gently in the wind, miscanthus bring movement and structure to any planting scheme and combine brilliantly with perennials. The larger varieties can be used as a screen or as a focal point, while the more compact varieties can be woven through borders or grown in pots. The flowers can be dried for flower arranging or for Christmas wreaths.
And if that's not all, miscanthus are hardy, low-maintenance, don't need staking and grow well in most soils. They're largely free of pests and diseases, too. They're considered invasive in parts of the US, but there are no problems with this in the UK. They should reach their ultimate height and spread in two to three years.
How to grow miscanthus
Grow miscanthus in a sunny spot, in well drained soil. Cut back the dead leaves in late winter to early spring.
More on growing miscanthus:
- 20 of the best ornamental grasses
- How to grow ornamental grasses
- Eight combinations of grasses and flowers
- How to make a miscanthus Christmas wreath
Miscanthus: jump links
- Planting miscanthus
- Caring for miscanthus
- Propagating miscanthus
- Growing miscanthus: problem-solving
- Buying miscanthus
- Best miscanthus to grow
Where to grow miscanthus
For the best results plant in full sun in moist but well-drained soil; growing in light shade will mean that you enjoy fewer flowers. Miscanthus tolerate most soil types. The more compact varieties grow well in containers. Varieties with narrower leaves tend to be more drought tolerant.
How to plant miscanthus
Miscanthus can be planted all year round, but ideally plant them in spring or autumn. Dig a planting hole, place the plant in the hole so it’s planted at the same depth as it was in the original pot, backfill and firm in. Water plants in well.
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Caring for miscanthus
Miscanthus should get plenty of moisture from rainfall, so do not need watering. They don't need feeding, either.
Cut back the dead leaves in late winter to early spring – early March is usually ideal – when you see new growth appearing at the base.
Divide congested clumps in early spring. Very mature clumps are often tricky to lift, so have a friend on hand to help. In order to divide large clumps push two garden forks into the crown of the plant back to back and pull the handles down.
How to propagate miscanthus
The easiest way to propagate miscanthus is to divide plants in early spring.
Growing miscanthus: problem solving
Poor flowers may be due to a poor summer – miscanthus flower best after a hot, sunny period.
A very wet winter can cause plants to rot off. If you have very heavy soil, avoid this by incorporating some grit to the planting hole when planting if you have heavy soil.
Brown patches on variegated forms of miscanthus can be caused by very hot sun. Browning around the edges of variegated leaves may be a form of rust. Cut out the affected leaves promptly.
Advice on buying miscanthus
- You can buy miscanthus at garden centres but for the best selection, visit a specialist ornamental grass nursery or buy online
- Check the ultimate size of the plant – miscanthus can vary in height from 80cm to 2.5m
- Check that you have the right conditions for growing miscanthus – they like moist but well drained soil and a sunny spot
Where to buy miscanthus online
Best varieties of miscanthus to grow
Micanthus sinensis ‘Flamingo’
A popular, deciduous grass with late summer, pink flower plumes. Ideal for a sunny spot.
Height x Spread: 2m x 1m
Native to the Himalayas and Myanmar, Miscanthus nepalensis forms bold clumps of elegant green foliage. In summer airy plumes of yellowish drooping flowerheads are held high above the foliage, which persist into autumn and develop into architectural seedheads.
H x S: 1m x 1m
Miscanthus sinensis 'Kleine Silberspinne'
Miscanthus sinensis ‘Kleine Silberspinne’ is a compact ornamental grass with fine, silvery leaves with a white central stripe. In summer it bears masses of upright, feathery, red-brown plumes, which fade to silver in autumn. H x S: 1.2m x 50cm
Miscanthus sinensis 'Dronning Ingrid'
Miscanthus ‘Dronning Ingrid’ flowers earlier in the year than other miscanthus varieties. It bears dark red upright flowers and purple-tinted foliage that becomes more vibrant in autumn.
H x S: 1.5m x 1m
Miscanthus sinensis 'Zebrinus'
Zebra grass, Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’, is an unusual looking grass, named for its bright green foliage decorated by horizontal cream bands. Although its foliage is its main attraction, it may also bear silky, slender flowers in summer, which last well into winter.Zebra grass is the perfect foil for more colourful plants. Grow it as a specimen plant at the back of a floral border to contrast with brightly coloured blooms.
H x S: 1.2m x 50cm
Miscanthus 'Ruby Cute'
A compact variety with slender green leaves that become pinker as the season progresses, then turn bright red in autumn, plus attractive silky flower heads. Great for the front of the border or a container.
H x S: 40cm