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Miscanthus (miss-KAN-thus)

Common Name:  Maiden grass, flame grass

Light:  - Full sun to part shade

Soil:  Average to rich, moist but well-drained

Moisture:  Average to somewhat moist

Blooms:  Late summer and fall

Zones:  5 - 9, but varies slightly by type


Miscanthus 'Gold Bar' PP#15193

Miscanthus 'Nippon'

Miscanthus Description and Cultural Information

Miscanthus sinensis, maiden grass. This is the most well known and widely grown species of maiden grass. They are clumping grasses, typically with green foliage and a white midrib. They have full feathery plumes appearing anywhere from August to October, starting out reddish pink and fading to silvery white. There are many different garden cultivars which range in size from 3 to 8 feet and vary in hardiness, flower time, flower color, and fall color. Typically the foliage turns golden yellow in fall although some have more reddish tones.

Selected cultivars hardy to zone 5 include:

'Dixieland':  Compact form with nice white and green variegated foliage, growing 4 to 5' tall
'Gold Bar' PP#15193:  Extreme horizontal banding on a very slow growing, somewhat compact plant, hardy to zone 6
'Gracillimus':  Very full clumps grow 6' tall with nice silvery plumes in early fall
'Huron Sunrise':  Upright with very full and attractive pinkish plumes in early fall, growing about 6' tall
'Little Zebra' PP#13008:  Horizontal bands like 'Zebrinus' but on a tidy and self-supporting 3 to 4' tall clump
'Morning Light':  One of the most compact, this cultivar has very fine blades growing 4' tall and blooms very late in the fall
'Nippon':  Upright with fine blades and nice pinkish turning golden yellow flowers that bloom in early fall on a 6 to 7' clump
'Puenktchen' (aka 'Little Dot'):  Horizontal bands and nice pink flowers growing 5 to 6' tall
'Silberfeder' (aka 'Silver Feather'):  One of the tallest and fullest of the maiden grass, it grows 7' tall and 8 to 10' wide with very full, beautiful silvery plumes in the fall
'Strictus' (porcupine grass):  Horizontal bands on a distinctly upright clump, growing to about 7' tall - a vertical form of zebra grass
'Variegatus':  Very tall and full with attractive white and green striped leaves making one of the best vareigated grasses you can grow - blooms in late fall
'Zebrinus' (zebra grass):  Horizontal bands almost identical to 'Strictus' but it has a much more cascading form, requiring extra room and often requiring support

Miscanthus x 'Purpurascens', flame grass. 4 - 5'. This grass has upright clumps of green foliage turning red-orange. Occasionally the late season color goes straight from green to brown, but in most years the fall color is the best of any Miscanthus. Although this grass is often classified with the sinensis species its origin and parentage is unknown. The plumes are narrow and vertical, opening with a pink tint turning silvery. It is very hardy but not particularly heat tolerant, but it is sterile and does not self-seed like other Miscanthus. Zones 4 - 8.

How to grow:  Plant Miscanthus in full to light sun in average to rich, moist but well-drained soil. They are all clump forming, warm season grasses that are best propagated by division in the spring. Since clumps tend to grow only at the outer edges, very old clumps may die out in the center. If this happens, dig and divide using a very sharp knife, saw, axe, or backhoe.

Important Note:  In northern gardens the growing season is not typically long enough or hot enough for the seeds of most Miscanthus to fully mature, so self-sown seedlings are not a major problem. Unfortunately further south in warmer, moist climates, Miscanthus may self-seed prolifically and invasively. In the North we prize the earlier blooming cultivars such as 'Graziella' or 'Silberfeder', but in the South and mid-Atlantic regions these types should be avoided as they can become invasive both in and out of the cultivated garden, possibly threatening native areas. 'Morning Light', 'Gracillimus', and 'Variegatus', which require a much longer growing season to develop blooms and mature seeds, are much better choices for warmer regions, and 'Purpurascens' is considered sterile so works great in any area.

Landscape uses:  Use Miscanthus as an accent, in mass plantings, as a focal point, a background, or as a screen. Because of the incredible number of shapes, heights, and sizes, Miscanthus can be used in just about any garden. They provide invaluable winter interest in the perennial garden and make great, long lasting cut flowers.

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