Miscanthus Sinensis: The Monarch Of Grasses

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Miscanthus Sinensis

Miscanthus sinensis

Miscanthus Sinensis is the monarch of grasses, lending grace and grandeur to any garden; while we’re on the subject of garden pests, the chopped-up leaves of most ornamental grasses, including Miscanthus, are useful for deterring snails and slugs.

Common are ‘Grosse Fontane’ featuring pinkish flower heads fading to frothy white and arching leaves with excellent autumn color, or ‘Malepartus,’ which has wine-colored plumes fading to silvery pink, and orange-and-buff autumn foliage.

This time of the year, Miscanthus Sinensis is at its rhyming best, flowing and glowing.

The wind sends its feathery flower heads rippling and dancing and, when backlit, the rays of the sunset it alight.

Miscanthus Sinensis Origins

The wild species of this tall grass originates in China, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan and has given rise to hundreds of ornamental cultivars that are the royalty of the grass family.

They have elegance and longevity and, like all hard-working monarchs, the ability to stand upright for seemingly endless periods of time.

Even after winter has withered their leaves to a beige-and-brown crisp and their inflorescences to a bleached tuft, they still have poise.

Miscanthus, which, in America, enjoys the more euphonious common name of Eulalia grass, is handsome for many months.

The silken, tasseled flowers appear from August onwards, but before that, the leaves make healthy green sheaves, which act as a calming backdrop for other perennials.

With cooler weather, the chlorophyll leaks away from the tissues, and, in some varieties, the strappy leaves take on orange and red tones.

Miscanthus Sinensis Size

The foliage height of the different cultivars ranges from about half a meter in the dwarf varieties, such as ‘Adagio’ and ‘Little Kitten,’ to 1.5 meters in the tall ones, which include ‘Silberfeder’ and ‘Grosse Fontane.’

The height will be greater in very fertile soil, while in poorer soil, it will be considerably shorter.

For example, in my front garden, where the soil is typical urban stuff — dried out and tired — my miscanthus cultivars reach only about two-thirds of their textbook stature.

Fertilizing

I’ve never bothered feeding them, though, and given my lousy ground, I really should have.

The time for feeding, preferably with a mulch of well-rotted manure, is in early spring. This is the same time that you can cut down the old-growth with secateurs.

Shear the plants to about 3in or 4in from the ground, water them well, and give them a mulch.

If you haven’t got any well-rotted manure, use your own garden compost or a couple of handfuls of pelleted chicken manure.

The latter, I have to warn you, is loved by dogs and foxes. They have the same ecstatic relationship with it as some humans have with chocolate and will scrabble at the base of your chicken manure-dressed plant until they have found every last morsel.

Useful For Deterring Snails And Slugs

And while we’re on the subject of garden pests, the chopped-up leaves of most ornamental grasses, including Miscanthus, are useful for deterring snails and slugs.

Scatter the grass fragments thickly around vulnerable plants, and the sharp edges make an uncomfortable surface for the soft, blobby bellies of molluscs.

Members of the Miscanthus tribe are “warm-season” grasses. They wake up late in spring, grow steadily for months, and at the end of summer or in early autumn, they produce their distinctive panicles of flower, which are held well above the foliage.

Miscanthus Sinensis Varieties

Some varieties hoist their plumes a meter higher than the leaves. The well-named ‘Goliath,’ which bears reddish-brown pennants, is one such cultivar.

This giant of grass was raised by the German plantsman Ernst Pagels, who died in 2007. He bred many of today’s best Miscanthus selections at his nursery in Lower Saxony.

Among those you might find in good garden centers are ‘Ferner Osten’ with its arching red flower heads and orange autumn foliage and ‘Flamingo,’ which has silvery flower heads and rust-tinged autumn leaves.

Also common are ‘Grosse Fontane’ featuring pinkish flower heads fading to frothy white and arching leaves with excellent autumn color, or ‘Malepartus,’ which has wine-colored plumes fading to silvery pink and orange-and-buff autumn foliage.

Pagels’s nursery was visited in the 1980s by the German-born landscape architect, Wolfgang Oehme, then practicing in America as half of the Oehme van Sweden partnership.

Oehme was enthralled by the movement and elegance of the grasses and soon introduced them to his design studio’s romantic “New American Garden” planting schemes.

Meanwhile, in Europe, the new perennial movement, carried along by designers such as the Dutch Piet Oudolf, introduced grasses, including Pagels’s cultivars.

By the 1990s, in its many forms, Miscanthus Sinensis was established as a mainstream garden plant and has remained so with good reason.

It combines well with many other perennials, especially tall and airy kinds such as rudbeckia, eupatorium, and Verbena bonariensis.

There are cultivars for many gardening situations, including the back of the border, the middle of the lawn, and large containers.

Miscanthus extends the garden season for many months and looks just as well dead as it does alive. Few plants have such diverse talents.

Problems

There are no heavy insect or disease issues. Albeit, in some parts of the U.S., miscanthus mealybug and miscanthus blight can pose serious problems.

Miscanthus mealybug provokes dwarfish growth and is hard to weed out; hence it lives inside the stems.

Miscanthus blight is a sort of fungal disease which attacks the blades and sheaths. Leaf rust may occur.

Mature clumps of ‘Gracillimus’ (3-4 years +) produce substantial foliage, which sometimes needs support.

Uses

Versatile ornamental grass. Accent, specimen, or small grouping. Borders, meadows, wild gardens, cottage gardens, naturalized areas, or pond/water garden peripheries. Dried flowers are long-lasting.