Ornamental grasses are in their glory in the landscape. Their color, texture and form provide spectacular visual impact while their movement in autumn breezes delivers seasonal sound. Once established, most ornamental grasses are almost maintenance-free. Watering them during periods of prolonged drought and cutting their stems back to the ground in early spring is all that is required.
The family of Miscanthus sinensis, commonly called maiden grass, eulalia and Chinese silver grass, is a group of clumping, fountain-shaped grasses with cultivars as small as 2 feet and as tall as 12 feet, but most types range from 4 to 8 feet tall and 2 to 3 feet wide. Plumes, sort of like corn tassels, appear on one side of flowering stems in late summer or early fall. Back lit by the setting sun, they positively glow.
Plant them in full sun to light shade in just about any soil. When planted in too much shade, however, their normally upright stems may flop. A warm-season grass, maiden grass waits until the soil has warmed in spring before actively growing.
Which cultivar is right for your landscape?
Adagio is a beautiful compact maiden grass. Narrow, silvery-gray leaves turn yellow in fall. Plants grow about 3 feet tall and wide. Pink flowers, up to 2 feet above the foliage, in late summer turn to fluffy white plumes in fall. Adagio is ideal for smaller gardens, the middle of perennial borders and large containers.
Arabesque is another compact grower, similar in size to Adagio but shows off thin, dark green leaves with silver center stripes. Copper-colored flowers on purple stems rise a couple feet over the foliage.
Autumn Light grows taller – 4 to 6 feet – and 4 to 5 feet wide. Long, arching, dark green leaves with thin white margins turn yellow tinged with purple in fall. Blooming later than many other varieties, Autumn Light shows off crimson-red flowers atop sturdy 7-foot stems that turn creamy white as they age. Plant Autumn Light toward the back of the perennial border, in a shrub border, or as a specimen plant in the landscape.
Border Bandit boasts green leaves with gold horizontal stripes. It grows 4 to 5 feet and up to 3 feet wide. Burgundy flowers begin blooming in September. Border Bandit reportedly tolerates part shade better than most other varieties. Position Border Bandit in the landscape where its unique coloring can be appreciated.
Cabaret grows 6 to 7 feet tall and 3 to 4 feet wide. Wide, dark green leaves with white stripes fade to the color of wheat after frost. Coppery-pink flowers in late summer age to creamy white in fall. Cabaret is a great choice for neighborly fencing or utilized as a landscape specimen.
Dixieland is a mid-sized maiden grass, growing 4 to 5 feet tall with green and white variegated foliage. Reddish-colored flowers in late summer mature to silvery white in fall. Dixieland is an outstanding seasonal backdrop for coneflowers, black-eyed Susan and goldenrod.
Flamingo has a bold, but elegant form in the garden. Slender green leaves with prominent midribs grow 5 to 6 feet tall and 3 to 4 feet wide. Abundant pink flowers held 2 feet above the foliage in late summer turn to feathery silver plumes in fall.
Gracillimus is one of the most popular maiden grasses. Graceful 5- to 6-foot clumps of ultra-thin green leaves turn yellow after frost and then fade to beige by winter. Gracillimus blooms considerably later than most other varieties, and some years it does not bloom at all. When it does bloom, coppery-colored flowers appear just at the top of the fountain of foliage.
Graziella grows 4 to 5 feet tall and 3 to 4 wide. Its green leaves grow horizontally from sturdy stems, giving this maiden grass a unique layered look. The foliage turns orange-red in fall before fading to beige for the winter. White flowers mature to silvery-white plumes. Graziella, in contrast to Gracillimus, blooms earlier than most other varieties of maiden grass.
Little Kitten is the baby of the maiden grass family. Just 2 feet tall and wide, mounds of very narrow, green leaves are lovely in the perennial border planted with salvia and Shasta daisies. Sparse silvery-pink flowers age to beige on stems a foot above the foliage.
Morning Light offers the fine texture of Gracillimus in a bit smaller package. Growing 4 to 5 feet tall and 3 feet wide, its very narrow green leaves have thin white margins. Copper-colored flowers turn into silvery-white plumes.
November Sunset grows 5 to 6 feet tall and 3 to 5 feet wide. Slender green leaves turn, as its name suggests, attractive shades of yellow and orange in fall. Reddish flowers bloom in September high above this robust maiden grass. Plant November Sunset with fall-blooming perennials for a display of brilliant autumn color.
Purpurascens is celebrated for its brilliant orange-red fall color that darkens to burgundy in winter. With wider leaves than many other maiden grass cultivars, it grows 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide. Coppery-colored flowers become plumes of creamy white. This grass is commonly called flame grass.
Red Silver grows 4 to 5 feet tall and 3 to 4 feet wide. Slender, green leaves with pronounced white midribs turn golden yellow in fall. Lots of purplish-red flowers bloom a couple feet above the foliage.
Rigoletto sports green and white striped foliage on plants growing 4 to 5 feet tall and 3 to 4 feet wide. Its sturdy stems hold bronze-colored flowers. Pink-flowering garden phlox glow when planted in front of Rigoletto.
Sarabande grows 5 feet tall and is narrower than most other varieties – just 2 to 3 feet wide. Very thin, silver-edged, dark green leaves turns beige after frost. Golden-brown flowers are held just above the foliage. Sarabande is an ideal maiden grass to plant where height is needed in a small space.
Silver Feather, also offered as Miscanthus sinensis ‘Silberfeder’, grows 5 to 6 feet tall and 4 to 5 feet wide. Arching green leaves with distinct white midribs contrast beautifully with its silvery white plumes. Consider Silver Feather when planting for privacy.
Strictus is often chosen for its gold, horizontally-striped leaves on plants growing 4 to 5 feet tall and 3 to 4 feet wide. Copper flowers bloom well above the foliage. Strictus is also commonly called porcupine grass. Yellow-flowering perennials, like black-eyed Susan and perennial sunflowers, echo of the color of its stripes.
Super Stripe shows off bands of gold across its green foliage like Strictus, but spaced closer together. Also like Strictus, it grows 4 to 6 feet tall and 3 to 4 feet wide. Yellowish-brown plumes flower high above the foliage in September.
Variegatus is noted for its striking variegated foliage. Wide, more white than green, striped foliage fades to beige after frost. It grows 5 to 6 feet tall and at least 3 feet wide. Red flowers in September turn to silvery plumes in fall. This grass is also commonly known as variegated silver grass.
Yaku Jima grows just 3 to 4 tall and 2 feet wide. Elegantly arching, very thin, green leaves turn yellow with red tones before settling on tan for winter. Pink flowers reach barely a foot over the foliage in September, maturing to silver in fall. The more modest size of Yaku Jima makes it perfect for the middle of perennial borders or toward the front of shrub borders.
Did you decide which cultivar is right for your landscape? Include it on your list of must-haves for 2018 and get ready to garden with me!