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Miscanthus sinensis, how to grow Chinese reed

Miscanthus sinensis - Chinese reed

Chinese reed, or Miscanthus sinensis, with its broad silhouette, is likely one of the most beautiful and least invasive giant grasses in our temperate regions.

This lazy gardener’s plant suits rustic style gardens, minimalist contemporary gardens, and Zen gardens all very well.

A sturdy plant, easy to live with

  • Caring for chinese reedAll in all, Miscanthus is pretty accommodating, though it prefers rich and moist soils. It handles occasional dryness and ordinary, dry, or heavy soils without a hitch. These factors, however, affect its fall colors and the persistence of its stalks and foliage in winter. Plant it in the sun in a large but well-drained hole.
  • It has very few enemies except for the rabbit in large plantations and for wireworm, a soil worm that gnaws at roots in case of heavy infestation.

Miscanthus maintenance

  • Miscanthus sinensisJust avoid trimming Miscanthus canes at the start of winter, or it might not grow back. Cut dried clumps back to 6 inches from the ground at the end of winter. This is when nitrogen in the canes migrates to the rhizomes for spring regrowth. It’s only at the end of winter that Miscanthus loses its dry foliage, forming a welcome mulch to promote regrowth and keep the soil cool.
  • Fertilize in spring by raking the shredded foliage back around the base of the plant, forming a layer of compost 4 inches deep (10 cm).

Multiple uses in the garden

  • Landscaping with miscanthus sinensisLoving fresh soils, you can plant Miscanthus near a pond or to give volume by a basin.
  • It also works well in the background of flower beds with landscape roses, asters, etc.
  • In fresh soil, it forms a lovely pairing in a modern garden with ferns or dwarf bamboos.
  • You can also use it to form wind-breaking, privacy hedges, which are also interesting for the wildlife that takes refuge in them.

A family portrait

The home ground of this giant grass is Africa and South Asia (surprisingly, given its common name). It thrives in marshes and also on drained slopes and hillside flanks. It even has the nickname “Elephant Grass”, which it shares with some types of bana grass.

The linear foliage of the Miscanthus sinensis forms an imposing bundle, 5 to 6½ feet (1.50 to 2m) in all directions, crowned by silver panicles turning violet brown when mature. In autumn, the green foliage shifts to yellow, orange, red, or brown tones depending on the cultivar. Its well-defined silhouette, even in winter as its leaves and inflorescences dry out, also adds appeal.

Given its success, numerous cultivars have sprung up, including:

  • Purple flowering forms like ‘Ferner Osten’ (3 – 5 feet or 1 – 1.5 m)*,
  • How to plant miscanthus sinensisFine foliage forms like ‘Rotsilber’ with late flowering, standing just above a wide, dark green foliage marked by a silver central rib.
  • ‘Silberfeder’ enchants with its silver pink panicles blooming at the end of slim, upright stems reaching up to 8 feet (2.40m).
  • Variegated foliage appear that triggered renewed interest, like ‘Variegatus’ with cream white leaves streaked with pale green, ‘Zebrinus’, shown at the bottom of this post, has with yellow transverse variegations (5 – 6 feet or 1.50 – 1.80m)*.
  • ‘Gracillimus’ forms a very beautiful clump, 4 feet high (1.20m), with fine, arching foliage that turns brown in the fall, but it blooms little. ‘Morning Light’ (3 – 4 feet or 1 – 1.20m)* has a similar appearance with silvery foliage and loose flowering in September.

*The first number indicates the height of the foliage, the second, that of the flowering.

Varieties for small gardens or pot cultivation

Facing space constraints, forms of small dimensions have been selected:

  • ‘Kleine Fontaine’ (3 – 4 feet or 1 – 1.20m) is one of the most floriferous, with spikes from July and a resurgence until September.
  • ‘Yaku Jima’ is a dwarf form (2½ feet or 80cm) that unfurls its panicles well above the foliage from July. This one takes on caramel tones in the fall.

Elephant grass, plant of the future?

Miscanthus x giganteus, a sterile form, is emerging as a plant of the future. Think biomass for methane production, biofuel, particle boards, insulation, PVC substitutes, and so on. Harvest its dry canes at the end of winter and you’ve got yourself some firewood. It releases less carbon dioxide when burned than wood. And it packs more heat than a wood chip. Talk about hot stuff!

Images: Flower_Garden, CC BY-SA 2.0: Leonora Enking, F. D. Richards; Pixabay: Hans Braxmeier

Written by Eva Deuffic | Eva is passionate about gardens and gardening, and her talented words –and sharp camera– take us away on beautiful adventures.
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